Hydrangea Meaning and Symbolism in the Language of Flowers

It’s no wonder why various cultures, religions, and flower language dictionaries have imparted a rich history of the symbolic meaning of the beloved hydrangea flower. This beautiful flower is a favorite among florists and home gardeners everywhere. Traditionally, these flowers have carried sentiments associated with sincere emotions, gratitude, and deep understanding. Join me as I explore the rich symbolic meaning and cultural significance of the lovely hydrangea.

Colorful hydrangea flowers in bloom

Etymology

The name hydrangea comes from the Greek word hydros (water) and angos (jar or vessel). Together, the two words describe the hydrangea as a water jug. Some believe the hydrangea was given this name to describe the shape of the plant’s seeds. Others think the hydrangea earned its name because the flower requires so much water to thrive.

Hydrangeas in Japan

Thought to be the native home of Asian hydrangeas, Japan shares a long history with the flower. According to legend, a Japanese emperor once gifted hydrangeas to the family of a girl whom he loved but whom he had neglected due to urgent business affairs. He intended the floral gift to convey how much he cared for the girl and how sorry he felt for neglecting her.

In modern Japan, hydrangeas continue to convey the same symbolic meanings in addition to sentiments of unity and togetherness. Since hydrangeas are one of the country’s most popular flowers, visitors can admire them growing abundantly in hydrangea gardens throughout Japan

Around the world today, hydrangeas still symbolize heartfelt and sincere emotions, acts of attrition, and sincere apologies. 

Hydrangeas and Buddhism

In Buddhist traditions, the leaves of the Hydrangea Serrata are dried out and used to brew a ceremonial sweet tea called the tea of heaven. The tea is brewed for the Buddha Bathing Ceremony on April 8th, the day recognized as the Buddha’s birthday. Celebrants bathe statues of the Buddha in the tea and also serve it to drink. 

Symbolism of Hydrangeas in Victorian Culture

Because hydrangeas tend to produce abundant flowers but few seeds, they carried fairly pejorative symbolic meanings during the Victorian Era in Europe and the language of flowers. These included arrogance, boastfulness, haughtiness, vanity, and pride.

During this period, rejected male suitors often gifted them, as an insult, to the women for whom they had previously held affection. Additionally, women who grew them in their gardens were thought to be unlikely to find romantic companionship. 

The Popularity of Hydrangea Flower Tattoos

A popular choice for floral tattoos, hydrangea flowers in body art usually symbolize feelings of gratitude. Sometimes, the flowers can symbolize gratitude for a specific person, event, or something else. 

In keeping with the flower’s symbolic meaning of deep understanding and heartfelt emotions, hydrangea tattoos are also sometimes chosen by a person who considers themselves to be an emotional person or someone who feels like they’re particularly in tune with the world and others around them. 

Color Symbolism

All colors of hydrangeas are equally beautiful, but the flower’s symbolic meanings don’t carry equally warm and fuzzy connotations.

Depending on the different colors, the flowers can have different meanings. When giving hydrangeas as a gift, be mindful of the hydrangea color and be sure to choose the right one for your recipient to avoid a symbolically awkward situation.

Blue Hydrangea Flowers:

Blue Hydrangea Flowers in bloom

Blue hydrangeas represent feelings of remorse and have long symbolized apology. They also signify feelings of understanding, deep gratitude, and sincere emotion. Give these to a person whom you’ve wronged or to someone whose importance in your life you might have overlooked in the past.

Red or Pink Hydrangea Flowers:

Pink Hydrangea Flower

These delicately blushing blossoms carry connotations of heartfelt emotion, romance, and true feelings. Choose pink flowers on Valentine’s Day for an unexpectedly unique alternative to a red rose.

Light or Dark Purple Hydrangea Flowers:

Purple Hydrangea Flowers in bloom

Like blue hydrangeas, purple hydrangea flowers symbolize deep understanding. However, they carry this meaning without the notions of regret or apology. Instead, the added meaning of gratefulness makes this purple flower a fantastic option for a friendship or an enduring relationship. Additionally, purple is a traditionally regal hue. As a result, purple hydrangeas can also symbolize pride, royalty, and leadership.

White Hydrangea Flowers:

A large White Hydrangea Flower head

In general, white flowers can be a symbol of purity and grace, and this includes hydrangeas. However, white hydrangea blooms are associated with pride, vanity, and boastfulness. White is also a traditional symbol of sympathy. Although white hydrangeas can be used to fill out a sympathy bouquet, they aren’t a typical choice for condolences.

Green Hydrangea Flowers:

Green Hydrangea Flower in bloom

Generally, green flowers symbolize renewal and rebirth. Green hydrangeas can also represent prosperity, good fortune, good health, good luck, and youthfulness. Give these to anyone who needs a fresh start or an injection of positive energy in their life.

In Art and Literature

Hydrangea flowers, with their lush blooms and varied colors, have been a source of inspiration and symbolism in art and literature, reflecting themes of emotion, transformation, and remembrance. Here are some notable references:

  1. Impressionist Art: The Impressionist painters, known for their focus on light and color, were drawn to hydrangeas’ vibrant and varied hues. Claude Monet, for example, included hydrangeas in his garden at Giverny, which subsequently appeared in several of his paintings. The blooms added a touch of emotional depth and texture, reflecting the movement’s fascination with nature and the changing quality of light.
  2. Gardening Books and Guides: Beyond their artistic and literary symbolism, hydrangeas are celebrated in gardening literature for their aesthetic appeal and the way their color can vary with soil pH. This transformation has become a metaphor for change and adaptability in various forms of writing.
  3. Cultural Festivals and Events: In regions where hydrangeas are prominent, such as the Azores or parts of the American South, they often appear in cultural representations, festivals, and local art, celebrating the flower’s beauty and its connection to the area’s identity.

Suitable Gifting Occasions

1. Apologizing

When you owe someone a sincere apology, you can deliver it with an arrangement of blue hydrangeas to convey your understanding and regret. Since hydrangeas once helped an emperor earn forgiveness, they can likely do the same for you. 

 2. Thinking of You

Purple hydrangeas convey deep understanding, making them a good choice for a friend who’s going through a difficult time. If you want to show your support while letting them know you understand what they’re going through, give them a gift of regally-hued hydrangeas. 

3. Close Friend’s Birthday

As flowers of sincere emotions and deep understanding, hydrangeas are appropriate gifts to give to your closest friends. Green hydrangeas, in particular, can convey your appreciation of the deep connection you hold while wishing your friend good health and prosperity. 

4. Wedding Anniversary

Hydrangeas are sometimes associated with the 4th wedding anniversary flower. However, geraniums actually hold the official title of the flowers of the 4th wedding anniversary. While both flowers feature round clusters of blooms, they’re quite different.

Although hydrangeas aren’t officially the flower of any anniversary year, pink hydrangeas are a nice and unique choice for a romantic partner. If you had hydrangeas at your wedding, they’re even better!

5. Any Event in Alabama

Alabama designated the hydrangea as the state’s official flower in 1999. If you’re attending any event, celebrating a special occasion, or offering condolences at a somber ceremony in Alabama, you’re welcome to give hydrangeas. 

Loving Hydrangeas with the Rest of Us

Although some hydrangea meanings might not make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, many, like gratitude, attrition, and deep understanding, are highly commendable sentiments to find in a floral arrangement. Whether you give your best friends blossoming hydrangea plants for their gardens or gift a bouquet to someone you’ve wronged in the past, your recipient will surely enjoy admiring the hydrangea’s brilliant blossoms. 

Editorial Director | andrew@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

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