The cheerful and bright warm colors of the common Nasturtium make it one of the most popular potted flowers around the world. Their ability to spread over a bed or sprawl and spill from a hanging planter makes them a valuable addition to any garden or balcony. But it’s also backed with deep meanings that lend it well to adding to symbolic arrangements. Choose the Nasturtium flower for its pop of color and symbolism alike.
- Nasturtium Flower Meaning & Symbolism – the Essentials
- About Nasturtium Flowers
- Uses and Benefits of Nasturtium
- Nasturtium Flower Meaning & Symbolism
- The Cultural Significance and Symbolism of Nasturtium Flowers
- Suitable Gifting Occasions for Nasturtium
- How to Care for Fresh Cut Nasturtium Flowers at Home
- Nasturtium Flower FAQ
- Petal Republic’s Flower Guides:
Nasturtium Flower Meaning & Symbolism – the Essentials
Nasturtium flowers traditionally hold the symbolic meaning of patriotism, love, loyalty, strength, and purity that has changed only slightly over the last few centuries. They’re also edible and have played a role in helping people get through worldwide conflicts.
About Nasturtium Flowers
Nasturtium – Family, Genus, and Taxonomy
Nasturtiums are better known as Tropaeolum, an entire genus of 80 related flowering perennials. Many are popular as garden plants, including Tropaeolum majus, Tropaeolum peregrinum, and Tropaeolum speciosum.
All of the members of the genus are known for their brightly colored flowers and mostly shield-shaped leaves. The genus is the only part of the larger family Tropaeolaceae.
Botanical Characteristics, Colors, and Fragrances
Most Nasturtium varieties are some shade of red or another warm color.
Specific cultivars produce blood red, bright yellow, orange, deep maroon, or even hot pink blooms. A few varieties have multi-colored and patterned blooms, but most are a single color.
The plants also have a spicy, musky, green scent that comes equally from the leaves and flowers. It’s commonly used in men’s cologne mixes for a fresh top note.
Popular Nasturtium Types, Species, and Cultivars
Some of the most widely planted species of Nasturtium include T. peregrinum, T. majus, and T. minus. Most varieties named only by the cultivar are some hybid of the various species since they easily intercross. Some of the hottest specific cultivars include:
- Peach Melba, a yellow to orange large flowering variety with contrasting dark orange throats
- Canary Creeper, a T. peregrinum variety with doubled yellow flowers with frilly edges that catch the eye
- Jewel, one of the only Nasturtium varieties to random bloom in red, orange, or yellow so it’s easy to plant a mixed color patch.
The common name for the flower, Nasturtium, comes from the Latin terms nasus and torquere. Nasus means nose, and torquere means twist. The name refers to the usual reaction to the acrid scent and tangy flavor of the plant.
The name of the genus containing all the varieties of Nasturtium, Tropaeolum, refers to Carl Linnaeus’ belief that the flowers look like the trophies of battle.
What Regions are Nasturtium Native to?
Almost all members of the Tropaeolum genus come from South and Central America. Yet they’ve been spread across the planet since they were first discovered in the mid-1500s, meaning this plant is widely naturalized. It can be found growing wild everywhere from North America to the Mediterranean.
When is Nasturtium in Season?
Nasturtium varieties varying in bloom time, but it’s possible for them to bloom from May to September. Planting a mix of varieties can result in months of continuous blooms.
Uses and Benefits of Nasturtium
Nasturtiums do more than just brighten up a walkway planter box or hanging basket. They’re also edible, from the leaves to the flowers and buds. In fact, the buds are often pickled and used as a caper replacement since they also have a tangy and slightly hot flavor.
Nasturtiums are often used as colorful garnishes or as part of a mixed salad. The flowers also attract and feed pollinators, especially when you plant red and single flowering varieties with large blooms.
These flowers aren’t toxic or irritating, so they’re a great choice for a garden where kids and pets regularly roam.
Nasturtium Flower Meaning & Symbolism
Since Nasturtiums mostly flower in warm colors, it’s not surprising they have strong and emotional meanings. In the language of flowers, Nasturtiums meaning and symbolism varies somewhat by the color of the respective bloom as well:
Red Nasturtium Flower Meaning
Red Nasturtium flowers are symbolic of passionate love, devotion, strong desire, energy, and celebration.
Yellow Nasturtium Flower Meaning
Yellow flowers are synonymous with meanings of joy, playfulness, youth, new beginnings, and friendship.
Orange Nasturtium Flower Meaning
The color orange is closely linked to enthusiasm, celebrating achievements, creativity, and growth.
Maroon Nasturtium Flower Meaning
Maroon is often symbolic of hidden or unconscious beauty, secret love, loyalty, and deepening obsession.
The Cultural Significance and Symbolism of Nasturtium Flowers
In general, Nasturtium flowers carry the symbolism of strength, purity, and strong emotion. It’s commonly connected with patriotism or the urge to fight for what one believes in.
This meaning has carried through the years since Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus first proposed it. He thought the red and orange flowers looked like bloodstained shields or helmets held on spear-like stalks.
Ironically, another important meaning of the flower is linked to a scientific principle instead. The botanist’s daughter Elizabeth Linnaeus noticed the red flowers appeared to flash at twilight. This gave way to the discovery of the Elizabeth Linnaeus Phenomenon, which is a strobe-like visual effect caused by red and blue or dark green colors being paired together.
Nasturtium Flowers in the Victorian Era
During the Victorian era at the height of the use of floral arrangements, Nasturtium took on a slightly different meaning. Tucking a few of the bright red blooms into a bouquet could add the following meanings:
- Impetuous love, indicating your interest despite obstacles
- Loyalty and the devotion to pursue someone for long periods of time
- A secret or hidden love
- Sweetness and grace, especially when mixed with carnations and rosebuds.
Some of the Nasturtium’s other cultural contributions are more practical. For example, a dried and ground form of the leaves and buds were used as a replacement for black pepper during WWII.
Nasturtium Flowers in Art and Literature
In art, Claude Monet widely used Nasturtiums for their bright pop of color in his paintings. Many of the paintings of artist Margaret Preston are based around this flower in particular.
Suitable Gifting Occasions for Nasturtium
Nasturtiums are available both as cut flowers and as potted plants. Potted varieties make a great gift for someone starting a new venture like a career change or going back to school, especially in yellow and orange shades.
Bright red Nasturtiums are a great addition to bouquets with subtle or blatant romantic intentions. They’re also ideal for anniversaries, especially in darker shades of red, since these flowers indicate loyalty and devotion.
How to Care for Fresh Cut Nasturtium Flowers at Home
Nasturtiums wilt more easily than many other plants, so they’re often cold treated by florists to ensure they can last in a bouquet.
Immediately after cutting, take the nasturtiums indoors and mist them with water. Put them in a vase or glass of fresh water and refrigerate them until it’s time to present the bouquet.
Chilling the flowers for at least a few hours immediately after cutting will help them resist wilting for at least a day or two at room temperature.
For more, see our essential guide to fresh cut flower care at home.
Don’t let the Nasturtium’s ubiquity cause you to overlook its symbolism. This humble garden flower belongs in every yard or balcony flower box.
Nasturtium Flower FAQ
Do nasturtiums come back every year?
Nasturtium are self-seeding plants so will return year after year in your garden or growing patch.
Do nasturtiums like sun or shade?
Nasturtiums are sun-loving plants and thrive best in growing areas that typically receive at least 6 hours of full, direct sunlight each day.
Where should I plant nasturtiums?
Look to plant nasturtium in well-draining soil bases ideally in well-exposed areas that receive full sun where possible. Typically the plants won’t require much fertilizing as their nutrient needs are negligible compared to many other flowering plants.
What does nasturtium symbolize?
Nasturtium flowers carry the symbolism of strength, purity, and strong emotion. It’s commonly connected with patriotism or the urge to fight for what one believes in.
What is nasturtium used for?
Nasturtium plants are edible, from the leaves to the flowers and buds. In fact, the buds are often pickled and used as a caper replacement since they also have a tangy and slightly hot flavor. Nasturtium petals are often used as colorful garnishes or as part of a mixed salad. The flowers are also excellent pollinators attracting bees and other insects to the garden.
Petal Republic’s Flower Guides:
Looking for a particular stem or in need of some inspiration on the best blooms for a certain occasion? Check out Petal Republic’s comprehensive guides to Roses, Sweet Woodruff, Tansy, Goldenrod, Edelweiss, Ranunculus, Lilies, Irises, Tulips, Orchids, Carnations, Gerbera Daisies, Camellia, and Peonies.
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.