Southernwood may sound like a plant with a very limited spread, but it’s actually traveled around the world in the last few centuries. Naturalized across North America, it has mythology and meaning from both its original and new homes. It has much smaller flowers than most plants used symbolically, but its scent and appearance give it meaning instead. Take another look at Southernwood to gain a deeper appreciation for this common but beautiful flowering herb.

Ultimate Guide to Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum)

Southernwood Flower Meaning & Symbolism – the Essentials

Southernwood is a delicate looking plant with a symbolic history stretching back through the ages. It’s widely considered to be a symbol of devoted or new love, as well as a potent form of protection from insects in particular.

About Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum)

About Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum)

Despite its name, Southernwood isn’t a tree or woody at all. Instead, it’s a short-growing herb that produces tiny flowers. It’s usually identified by its strong camphor odor and its frilly foliage.

The Southernwood Flower – Family, Genus, and Taxonomy

Southernwood’s true name is Artemisia abrotanum, making it a part of the larger Artemisia genus. This genus includes true wormwood and similar herbs with medicinal uses. Artemisia is just part of the Asteraceae family, which includes nearly 2,000 flowering plants.

Botanical Characteristics, Colors, Fragrances

This plant generally grows about three to four feet tall, although a few garden varieties are slightly shorter. The foliage is fine and frilly, much like dill. The camphor odor makes it easy to tell apart from similar looking herbs. Flowers are small and yellow, requiring a keen eye for appreciation.

Silver Southernwood is the main alternative cultivar available aside from the standard type. This silver type has a lighter and softer color, along with a slightly shorter growth habit. This type isn’t recommended for any other use than decoration since it’s never been tested for edible or medicinal use. It’s also possible to find Southernwood cultivars bred for their lemon scent, which is slightly more palatable than the original camphor scent.

Etymological Meaning

The name Southernwood is a simple contraction of the two words southern and wormwood. Since this variety of Artemisia grew in more southern native ranges than other wormwoods, it quickly earned an obvious name. 

Some cultures refer to the plant as Southern Wormwood instead. The scientific name Artemisia is derived from the Greek Goddess Artemis to whom wormwood was a sacred plant.

What Regions are Southernwood Flowers Native to?

What Regions are Southernwood Flowers Native to

Southernwood was originally native to North Africa, the Mediterranean, and Southern Europe. Thanks to its popularity as a garden herb, it’s now naturalized in most parts of Europe and North America. It can also be found in some parts of Asia as well.

When are Southernwood Flowers in Season?

Blooming for most Southernwood varieties begins in the height of summer where the heat peaks. Then the flowers continue to appear for a few weeks until fall begins. Even improved cultivars tend to only last over a relatively short window.

Uses and Benefits of Southernwood Flowers

Like all wormwood plants, Southernwood was historically used as a medicinal herb for internal parasites. It was also commonly recommended as a steaming herb for respiratory infections. 

Today some people take it in supplement form for improved digestion. It was also occasionally used by ancient cultures as a bitter seasoning for meat and other foods.

Southernwood Flower Meaning & Symbolism

Southernwood Flower Meaning and Symbolism

Despite being a relatively plain-looking plant compared to other flowers, Southernwood has earned a complex set of meanings that give it symbolic value today.

Common Southernwood Flower Colors and Their Meaning & Symbolism

Southernwood only produces two flower colors depending on the variety. White flowers carry a general symbolism of purity, peace, healing, clarity, and even holiness. Yellow and cream-colored blooms convey the meaning of joy, growth, youthfulness, fun, and exuberance.

The Cultural Significance of Southernwood Flowers

The Cultural Significance of Southernwood Flowers

As a herb long used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes, it’s no wonder Southernwood has developed symbolic use as well. 

On the most practical level, planting Southernwood in an orchard can help repel insects and protect the trees. This has evolved into a more general meaning of protection, healing, and good health shared by multiple cultures.

Southernwood Flower Myths & Folklore

One of Southernwood’s most enduring myths that is widespread through European cultures links it to love. Young people pining for their lovers would include sprigs of Southernwood flowers in their bouquets. The strong smell of the plant was supposed to help attract your love back to you over any distance. 

In other cultures, Southernwood developed a reputation for protecting new homes when gifted as a dried or fresh bouquet due to its general protective use against insects.

Southernwood Flower Meaning & Symbolism in Ancient Egypt

Southernwood Flower Meaning & Symbolism in Ancient Egypt

In Ancient Egypt, Southernwood grew wild and could be harvested in large volumes. Its distinctive scent became part of a popular perfume mixture known as Cyprinum. The balm-like solid perfume also included myrrh, cinnamon, and cardamom all mixed in a base of henna. 

The resulting scent is warm, spicy, and welcoming. Some modern perfumers have speculated that it may have been a good choice for attracting romantic interest due to its fresh yet warm blend of scents.

Southernwood Flower Symbolism in French Culture

Since Southernwood is native to much of Europe, it’s not surprising the plant has developed a special meaning in French culture as well. 

The French don’t call the plant Southernwood but rather garderobe. This name means “preserver of clothes”, representing the plant’s believed ability to protect stored clothing from moths and other insects. 

Putting a few springs of the plant in a wardrobe or dresser was certainly an easy way to try and control wardrobe damage. As with many other European cultures, the French also include this plant in bouquets to send a romantic message.

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Southernwood Flowers

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Southernwood Flowers

Southernwood’s long history of symbolizing love makes it an ideal flower for gifting when indicating romantic interest. Since it was commonly given by young people first starting a relationship, it’s not as passionate or intense as flowers like red roses. 

It can also make a great gift as a potted plant for someone starting something new. Lemon-scented varieties in particular help brighten up an office or new home while sending a message that you care.

How to Care for Fresh Southernwood Flowers at Home

Southernwood flowers are generally long-lasting with little care. They even look relatively the same once dried, although the stems and foliage lose their color. Make sure the plants go into water immediately after cutting and change the water daily to prevent wilting.

Wrap Up

From its frilly and delicate foliage to its nodding and bell-shaped flowers, Southernwood has plenty of appeal in the garden and bouquet alike. Try a lemon-scented variety if you’re not a fan of the spicy scent of the original plant.

Southernwood Flower FAQ 

Aside from being a dietary supplement or garden plant, it’s also a symbol of love and protection. It can also discourage insects from damaging orchard trees and clothes alike.

Standard Southernwood has a camphor type odor that is often described as a cola-type of smell. Other varieties have a more lemon-scented odor instead.

The plant grows easily from both seeds and woody cuttings. Choose a sunny patch with well-drained soil for rapid growth.

Most Artemisia plants known as Southernwood only grow three to four feet tall at the most.

While some Artemisia varieties are poisonous, Southernwood is considered safe to consume in small amounts and for short periods of time.

Petal Republic’s flower and plant 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 expert flower guides to Roses, Valerian, Astrantia, Viburnum, Acanthus, Ranunculus, Lilies, Irises, Borage, Clovers, Freesia, Marjoram, Anemone, Begonia, Orchids, Allium, Carnations, Coreopsis, Gerbera Daisies, Gladiolus, and Peonies.  

Editorial Director | Full Bio | + posts

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.


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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