Although the name “lungwort” doesn’t sound very appealing, lungworts are actually quite attractive. They have showy leaves and pretty clusters of flowers that change color throughout the season. In a garden, lungworts can put on a show. In this guide, we’ll run through everything you need to know about lungwort meaning, symbolism, and cultural significance in the language of flowers.
The Symbolic Meaning of Lungwort Flowers – The Essentials
Plants of the Pulmonaria genus (commonly called lungwort flowers) symbolize joy, devotion, and admiration. In the language of flowers, their meaning is, “You are my life.” Colloquially, they have a history of being referred to as “ladies and gentlemen,” “Mary and Joseph,” or “William and Mary” in different regions.
About Lungwort Flowers
Pulmonaria is a genus containing 18 accepted species of flowering plants that are commonly called lungworts. The genus belongs to the Boraginaceae (borage or forget-me-not) plant family in the subfamily, Boraginoideae.
Evergreen, herbaceous, and perennial plants, lungworts grow in small clumps or rosettes and spread through their rhizomatic root systems. They produce sturdy, hairy stalks and stems that are mostly upright. Lungworts have large, heart-shaped leaves that sprout in rosettes around the stems. The leaves are also usually hairy, and most are dappled with green, blue, or black spots.
Lungwort flowers form in inflorescences atop the stems that extend slightly above the leaves. The flowers are comprised of a tubular corolla and five colored petal-like lobes, giving the blooms an overall trumpet-like shape. The flowers can be solid or multicolored, with colors blending as they change, like in a watercolor painting. As the flowers age, their colors shift, putting on a show throughout the blooming season.
History and Origins
Plants of the Pulmonaria genus are all native to Europe and western Asia, except for one species (Pulmonaria mollissima) that grows naturally in central Asia.
Pulmonaria has been introduced to parts of the eastern United States and Canada, including New York and Vermont, Québec, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.
The genus name, Pulmonaria, comes from the Latin word for lung, pulmonis. The name refers to the lung-like shape and resemblance of the plant’s leaves.
The plant’s common name, lungwort, has the same origin, referencing the lung-like appearance of the plant’s leaves. The suffix, wort, comes from Middle English and simply means “plant.”
Uses and Benefits of Lungwort Flowers
Lungwort plants are popular in ornamental gardens with their showy leaves and colorful flower heads. Depending on their growth habit and size, certain varieties make a perfect ground cover, as they spread easily. Others are more suited to grow in garden beds, borders, and even containers.
Pulmonaria flowers are a strong attractant for hummingbirds and bees. Drawing these petite fliers into your garden provides great entertainment throughout the season.
During the Middle Ages, sympathetic magic was common practice. People assumed that if a plant resembled a body part, then it could be used to treat ailments associated with it. As a result, lungwort (due to its leaves that resemble diseased lungs) was used to treat respiratory problems like coughs, asthma, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and chest congestion.
As coincidence would have it, lungwort actually has anti-inflammatory properties, making it an effective treatment for addressing symptoms of chest congestion. In fact, it’s actually still used today in some parts of the world. However, lungwort should be used cautiously because overuse can cause liver damage.
The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Lungwort Flowers
Contemporary Lungwort Flower Meaning and Symbolism
Lungwort symbolizes joy, devotion, and admiration.
Common Lungwort Flower Colors and Their Meaning and Symbolism
The colors of flowers also have their own symbolic meanings that they can contribute to the more comprehensive interpretations of flowers as symbols.
- Blue Flower Meaning – In flowers, blue represents peace and serenity. It’s also a symbol of beauty, hope, and the act of striving for the impossible.
- Purple Flower Meaning – Purple symbolizes royalty, nobility, power, wealth, dignity, and elegance.
- Pink Flower Meaning – Pink represents affection, gentle admiration, and femininity.
- Red Flower Meaning – Red is strongly associated with romantic love.
- White Flower Meaning – White symbolizes sympathy and mourning in addition to purity, virtue, and innocence.
What Does Lungwort Mean in the Language of Flowers?
In the language of flowers, lungwort represents the phrase, “You are my life.” As such, it could be used to show devotion and love.
The Connotations of Pink and Blue
Lungwort flowers have taken on more gendered symbolic meanings, with their flowers turning from blue to pink. Colloquially, they have a history of being referred to as “ladies and gentlemen,” “Mary and Joseph,” or “William and Mary” in different regions.
This pairing of pink and blue, which are commonly associated with girls and boys, might be responsible for the symbolic meanings associated with lungwort, implying that admiration, love, and marriage can lead to devotion and joy.
Lungwort Flowers in Christianity
Lungwort flowers have historically been viewed as Christian symbols. Due to their blue flowers that turn pink and white-spotted leaves, one common folk name for the plants is “Mary’s tears.” It is said that the changing flowers are like blue eyes turning red after weeping, and the spots on the leaves are like tears.
Lungwort for Protection in Folklore
Lungwort was also sometimes called “herb of Mary.” It was closely associated with the Virgin Mary and Saint Bridget. It was thought that the plants could reveal if a person were a witch and that wearing lungwort flowers or leaves would protect a person from evil.
Suitable Gifting Occasions for Lungwort Flowers
With their symbolic meanings of devotion, admiration, and joy, lungwort flowers (or a lungwort plant) can be the perfect gift for someone you genuinely love. Giving this plant, along with a note explaining its meaning, can demonstrate your commitment to the love of your life. You can give these flowers on an anniversary or another special occasion in your relationship as a symbol of your love and ongoing support.
Lungworth Meaning FAQs:
What Do Lungwort Flowers Symbolize?
Lungwort flowers symbolize joy, devotion, and admiration. In the language of flowers, their meaning is, “You are my life.”
Do Lungwort Flowers Symbolize Love?
Lungwort flowers are not direct symbols of love, but they have symbolic meanings that are associated with love, such as devotion, admiration, joy, and the phrase, “You are my life.”
Do Lungwort Flowers Come Back Every Year?
Yes, lungwort plants are perennials, so their flowers will return yearly in USDA growing zones 3 through 8.
How Long Do Lungwort Flowers Last?
Lungworts begin blooming in late winter or early spring, and they can continue blooming for up to 10 weeks, depending on the species.
Are Lungwort Flowers Toxic?
Lungwort flowers are toxic to humans, dogs, cats, and other animals.
Lungwort Flower Meaning and Symbolism: The Final Word
As you can see, it’s worth getting past the unpleasant names that were given to these beautiful flowers. They’ll add interest to your garden while brightening winter’s end!
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.