Purple Flower Meanings, Symbolism, and Folklore

Purple flower symbolism covers a multitude of meanings across cultures, species, and periods. Whilst the color traditionally symbolizes sorrow in Thailand, it has taken on the meaning of royalty and elegance in other cultures worldwide. Purple flowers are also commonly gifted to recognize success, admiration, and romance. Join me as I explore the rich history, cultural significance, and symbolic meaning of purple flowers.

Symbolic purple flowers in bloom

The Color Purple

Purple flowers in bloom

The color purple has represented royalty throughout the centuries. In fact, in some cultures, it was a color reserved only for the elite tier of society. The Persian king Cyrus wore purple as his royal uniform color and other civilizations like ancient Rome forbade the average citizen from wearing the color purple altogether.

Rulers of the Byzantine Empire also used this hue to demonstrate their nobility. They wore elegant purple robes and signed documents with purple-dyed ink. Over the years, many civilizations and cultures have come to see the color purple as a luxurious, royal shade. This likely boils down to the supply of purple dye in the ancient world.

Long ago, purple dye came primarily from the Phoenician city of Tyre, or modern-day Lebanon. They produced the coveted dye from sea snails in a complex process that made it rare and increasingly valuable. So, clothes made with purple dye were expensive and thus became a symbol of wealth and status in society.

In many Eastern cultures, the color purple maintains its meaning of nobility and luxury. However, in Thailand, the color symbolizes mourning and sorrow and is often worn during funeral services.

Of course, purple conveys a sense of honor in the United States. The military offers Purple Hearts to those who demonstrate acts of great bravery during their service.

About Purple Flowers

Purple crocus flowers in bloom

As it turns out, purple flowers are more common than purple dyes. There are over 100 species of purple flowers found all over the world, including popular picks like lavender, purple tulips, and verbena.

Flower colors like purple usually come from pigments called anthocyanins that the plant produces naturally. Anthocyanins in plants produce flowers with colors like white, red, blue, and purple, while carotenoids create warm pigments like yellow, orange, and red. These days, flower color is also genetically modified in some instances, as seen with the violet-blue chrysanthemum.

The Cultural Significance of Purple Flowers

Some purple flowers, like the purple Lotus flower, have a particular cultural meaning. This species is considered sacred in Buddhism. Lotuses of different shades take different meanings in this religion, many representing purity, grace, or the Buddha himself. In Buddhism, the purple variety of lotus represents the inner journey.

Another well-known purple flower in mythology is the violet. Citizens of ancient Greece favored the flower, and it became known as a symbol of Athens and the goddess Aphrodite.

Purple Flowers in Victorian Times

A field of purple flowers

In Victorian times, the language of flowers, or floriography, was a popular way to convey hidden messages. People would send each other flower arrangements to communicate things that they could not express in words. 

Interestingly enough, people even began carrying floral dictionaries with them and wearing bouquets with hidden messages as an accessory.

Here are a few of the purple flowers and their hidden messages in the Victorian language of flowers.

  • Lilacs – the first feelings of love
  • Purple carnations – capriciousness
  • Hyacinth – please forgive me
  • Black roses (often a dark purple hue) – dark magic or death

Purple Flowers and Spirituality

Aside from the purple lotus in Buddhism, purple flowers hold many other meanings in spiritual traditions around the world. In Christianity, there are several purple flowers mentioned in the Bible. Some include oriental hyacinths and oriental poppies.

Violets are prominent in Christianity as well. The color commonly represents repentance from sin, and medieval monks referred to violets as flowers of the Trinity.

Purple Flowers in Art and Literature 

A purple petunia bush in bloom

Purple flowers are common in art and literature as well. Paintings ranging from Vincent Van Gogh’s Still Life with Irises to Petunias by Georgia O’Keefe feature purple flowers as the primary focal point.

You’ll find purple flower references throughout literature as well. Common examples include Ophelia’s flowers in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This refers to a famous scene in the play when Ophelia gave flowers to other characters to convey meanings she could not express out loud. She gave rosemary to her brother while asking him to remember her and offered columbines to the king as a sign that she knew he’d been unfaithful.

There is also a play called The Purple Flower by American writer Marita Bonner. She published the play in 1928 as a metaphor for issues of race in the United States.

Modern Symbolism

Today, purple flowers can take on a variety of meanings depending on the context. In Thailand, they may be a sign of mourning offered at a funeral. However, in most other parts of the world, the color still represents this idea of royalty, luxury, and opulence that it held in ancient civilizations.

Suitable Gifting Occasions

Because of their versatility and wide variety of species, purple flowers make a suitable gift for numerous occasions spanning birthdays, thank you gestures, anniversaries, and more. Their symbolism of status means you can give them as a sign of respect, admiration, or adoration for the recipient. 

You’ll find 100s of flowering plants producing purple blooms across numerous growing zones worldwide today. Here’s a collection of our absolute favorites, which are popular in both floral design and for growing in homes and gardens: 

Allium (Allium)

Alliums are bulbous flowers that grow on tall, upright stems. They have large, spherical blooms that puff out like fireworks, offering a uniquely impressive appearance. Purple alliums denote royalty or admiration, while the lavender variety symbolizes grace and youth.

Anemone (Anemone nemorosa)

Purple Anemone flowers in bloom

Anemones are flowering plants in the buttercup family, with several cultivars that are popular among gardeners. The two purple cultivars are ‘Bowles’ Purple and ‘Royal Blue.’ Purple anemones are said to have a range of meanings, from protection from evil to anticipation and excitement.

Bellflower (Campanula)

Bellflowers are a beautiful purple flower that get their name from their bell-shaped blooms. In fact, their scientific name, campanula, means little bell in Latin. These flowers are a deep purple color and are popular among gardeners, especially around the United Kingdom. Bellflowers often symbolize affection, admiration, and humility.

Candytuft (Iberis pruitii)

Candytufts are a type of flowering plant in the Brassicaceae family. They grow in clusters and different shades, one of which is a vibrant purple. Popular cultivars to grow at home include Garden Candytuft (Iberis umbellata) and Snowflake Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens).

This flower is native to southern Europe and commonly grows around the Mediterranean. In the language of flowers, candytufts symbolize indifference, so it may not make the best gift for someone you admire deeply.

Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus)

A purple Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus)

Carnations come in a variety of colors, one of which is a purple-pink tone. People around the world have been cultivating this flower for thousands of years, though it is said to be native to parts of the Mediterranean. This is a cheerful flower, often given as a gift for friends or loved ones, depending on the color. In the language of flowers, purple carnations meant capriciousness.

Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Coneflowers are a North American flowering species that belongs to the sunflower family, though it is much smaller than its bright yellow cousin. These wildflowers have purple-pink petals and orange centers and often grow in prairies and open wooded areas. These days, coneflowers are known to represent health and strength.

Crocus (Crocus vernus)

Purple crocus flowers growing close to the ground

Crocuses are a flowering plant species in the iris family. They have deep, purple petals and orange stigmas where the valuable saffron spice grows. Crocuses are native to many areas, including central and southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and Central Asia. As a symbol, crocuses represent success, dignity, or pride.

European Periwinkles (Vinca)

European periwinkles are delicate flowers belonging to the vinca genus. The herbaceous plant grows small, pale purple blooms with five petals and deep green leaves. Due to its soothing tone, the periwinkle flower symbolizes feelings of calm and serenity.

Gladiolus (Gladiolus hortulanus)

Purple Gladiolus flowers in bloom

Gladiolus flowers are perennial flowering plants that belong to the iris family. They have tall, sword-shaped petals, which led to their nickname, the sword lily. These flowers grow in pink-purple or deep purple tones and are said to represent mystery and grace.

Italian Aster (Aster amellus)

Italian Asters, or Aster amellus, are a perennial herbaceous plant in the Asteraceae family. Its purple flowers have a similar appearance to daisies, with a bright yellow center surrounded by narrow, lavender-colored petals. This flower symbolizes faith and patience dating back to the Victorian era.

Lisianthus (Eustoma Grandiflorum)

A vase of purple Lisianthus (Eustoma Grandiflorum) flowers

Lisianthus is a flowering plant with the scientific name Eustoma russellianum, formerly Eustoma grandiflorum. This flower has luxurious, velvety petals that grow in a deep shade of violet. Its flowers are bell-shaped, which is why it commonly takes the name Texas bluebell. Lisianthus flowers represent gratitude and appreciation, so they are an excellent gift to say thank you to a friend or loved one.

Petunia (Petunia)

Petunia is a genus with 20 species of flowering plants, one of which grows in a dark purple hue. Their flowers bloom in bunches, making them a great choice for window boxes or hanging baskets. Purple petunias symbolize mystery and grace, but be cautious when gifting this species. Despite their beauty, petunias are also commonly known to represent feelings of anger and resentment.

Scabiosa (Scabiosa)

Scabiosa is a genus that belongs to the honeysuckle family, named for its traditional use as a treatment for scabies. Its flowers bloom with heads that produce small florets around a spiky center, in shades ranging from a pale pink-purple to blueish lavender. Purple scabiosa flowers represent love and purity.

Tulip (Tulipa)

A field of purple tulips in bloom

Tulips are bright, bulbous flowering plants that often signify the arrival of spring. In fact, in Holland, there are tulip festivals every year, with vast and colorful tulip fields admired by tourists and locals alike. The plant grows in a variety of colors, one of which is a fuchsia-purple tone. Purple tulips take the traditional meaning of the color purple, representing royalty and luxury.

Verbena (Verbena bonariensis)

Verbena is a perennial herb that is native to parts of Europe. Its flowers are a light, mauve hue and grow from thin, branching stems in small clusters. People have used this plant throughout history as an herbalist remedy. As a symbol, the verbena flower represents healing, protection, and romance.

Final Thoughts

Flowers convey a whole host of different messages, and purple blooms are no exception. They represent different cultural meanings and symbols that have developed throughout the centuries, from the language of flowers to appearances in Shakespearean plays.

Further reading: Discover beautiful types of blue flowers for your garden or next floral arrangement.

Contributing Editor | brandy@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Brandy Wells is an American copywriter and content writer living in Spain. From hiking in her hometown near the Smoky Mountains to digging in the dirt in rural Oregon, she has always put a love of nature at the heart of her endeavors. These days, you’ll catch her writing content, and of course, taking breaks to tend to her growing houseplant collection.

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