“Hey, sweet pea” is an expression we’ve all grown up hearing. But few of us have actually spent time thinking about where this phrase actually came from. And, as with many names and endearments, the answer is a flower. The sweet pea is one of the most quaint and darling of the blossoms, and it deserves full recognition. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know about sweet pea flower meaning and symbolism, their history and origins, uses and benefits, and the best gifting occasions. 

Ultimate Guide to Sweet Pea Flower Meaning, Symbolism, Types, and Uses

Sweet Pea Flower Meaning and Symbolism – The Essentials

In the language of flowers, the sweet pea holds the symbolic meaning of blissful pleasure. Its upright, clumping flower clusters also symbolize good wishes, friendship, kindness, and goodbyes. Many believe that these blooms leave a positive sentiment and a thoughtful way to say thank you as they further symbolize gratitude. Sweet peas are also the official birth flower for April.

About Sweet Pea Flowers

About Sweet Pea Flowers

Sweet pea has a long history in gardening and floral design. Due to its easy cultivation, distinctive colors, and wonderful scent, it is likely to remain popular forevermore.

The Sweet Pea Family, Genus and Taxonomy

While sweet pea is not a crop pea, it is closely related. Both sweet pea and peas are in the Fabaceae family, along with beans and pulses such as lentils. Sweet pea’s Latin name is Lathyrus odoratus.

Botanical Characteristics, Colors, and Fragrances

Few flowers compare to the sweet fragrance of sweet pea. Its distinctive aroma has an almost candy-like quality, without coming off as overly strong or noxious. This, in addition to how readily it takes to cultivation, has made it a popular flower for florists and home gardeners for centuries.

A climbing plant by habit, sweet pea has the same tendrils that the garden pea does. With support, it can reach 6 to 8 feet. Without, it is a mound-forming plant that will creep or grow to 1-2 feet in bushy clumps.

Sweet pea comes in a huge range of colors. There is one notable exception, which we will discuss below.

History & Origins of Sweet Pea Flowers

History and Origins of Sweet Pea Flowers

Sweet pea is native to Sicily and surrounding islands in the Mediterranean. According to legend, the sweet pea was first “discovered” by a Franciscan monk wandering the hillside in the 17th century. He was so charmed by it that he brought it home and planted it in his garden.

Since then, sweet pea made its way to many gardens and nurseries, then up through Europe. In the 1800s, Scottish nursery proprietor Henry Eckford began breeding it. He developed a wide range of cultivars that are still in use today.

Sweet pea comes in a huge variety of types. These vary by hue, single or double colors, the strength of fragrance, and growing habits. Some are more heat-tolerant, while others are better for cold climates. They carry charming names such as Apricot Sprite, Fire and Ice, King’s High Scent, Prima Ballerina, Strawberry Sundae, and more.

Etymological Meaning

The sweet pea plant’s taxonomic name derives from the Greek word “Lathyros,” which directly translates to pea or pulse, and the Latin word “odoratus,” meaning fragrant. The latter is due to its strong scent when in bloom, which is one of the most powerful among flowers. Note that Lathyrus odoratus is spelled a little differently from its root Greek word.

When Are Sweet Pea Flowers in Season?

The seasonality of sweet pea flowers depends on the region. In warm climates, it can bloom in winter and spring, provided it is planted in fall. In cold regions, gardeners usually start it as seeds in a greenhouse. From there, they transfer it outside, where it blooms most of the summer.

Sweet peas are almost always grown as annuals. That means they go in the ground, grow, flower, and die all in a single season.

Uses and Benefits of Sweet Pea Flowers

Uses and Benefits of Sweet Pea Flowers

Although it is related to the edible garden pea, sweet pea is counterintuitively not a culinary delight. It does have other noteworthy characteristics, however.

Food and Medicine

According to eMedicineHealth, a WebMD site, sweet peas are used in some parts of the world for food, animal fodder, and even medicine. But this isn’t common and certainly isn’t advisable. In fact, sweet pea contains known toxins to humans and animals.

Both dogs and cats should stay away from sweet peas. Humans would have to eat a lot of the seeds or stems in order to experience a reaction, but it is possible. Symptoms of poisoning include labored breathing, convulsions, and paralysis. Keep children under supervision around this pretty plant.

Fly Deterrent

Interestingly, though L odoratus smells amazing to us, flies do not agree. If they smell it, they’ll turn tail and run, so it’s a good option for outdoor hangouts and events.

Pollinator Gardens

It’s not clear if sweet peas make good food for bees, but we know they flock to colorful patches. While we’re not quite sure what draws bees to a certain flower (or makes them avoid it), we do know they see in color and bring them in. Dramatically shaded sweet peas will accomplish that goal.

Sweet Pea Flower Meaning & Symbolism

Sweet Pea Flower Meaning and Symbolism

Sweet peas, which are the April birth flower, are a symbol of blissful pleasure primarily because of their vibrant colors. In the language of flowers, the lovely blooms are a thoughtful way to say thank you as they further symbolize gratitude. 

People have developed the language of flowers over centuries – millennia, even. Red is often associated with romance, though also with courage and strength. Purple means royalty, while blue creates relaxation and pink is playful. 

Common Sweet Pea Flower Colors

Sweetpea is available in almost any flower color of the floral rainbow. That includes:

… and more. One color that isn’t available is yellow. The yellow sweet pea shares the fate of the blue rose. It still eludes cultivators to this day.

Some florists address the problem by dying flowers. This process involves watering neutral-colored plants, like white or ivory, with a yellow solution. They will pull it up through their stems and it will enter the bloom, coloring it.

The Cultural Significance of Sweet Pea Flowers

The Cultural Significance of Sweet Pea Flowers

Sweet Pea Flowers in the Victorian Era

According to legend, that same Sicilian monk sent the Mediterranean-born sweet pea to England shortly after finding it. Sweet peas have played a starring role in English botany ever since then, especially during Henry Eckford’s late Victorian times.

Sweet Pea Flowers in French Culture

In France, sweet peas have a long-held association with brides. Giving her sweet peas is meant to symbolize good luck on her wedding day and in her marriage.

Suitable Gifting Occasions

One can give sweet peas all the time. Popular occasions include as a birthday flower in April, gestures of friendship, and farewell messages. 

Sweet peas complement other flowers well. Their upright growth habit also makes them a good cut flower for bouquets by themselves. You can put them in vases and bouquets, as well as more elaborate arrangements.

Sweet Pea: The Best New Blossom in Your Life

While this flowering plant doesn’t have the same wide applications that some flowers do regarding food and drink, it’s an incredibly versatile flower in arrangements and bouquets.

Sweet Pea Flower FAQ

In very warm, tropical areas they might, but not in temperate regions. Most gardeners should treat them as annuals.

This depends on the season. In warm latitudes, they flower in winter and spring. Cold places can expect summer blooms.

Both annual sweet pea flowers and everlasting perennial varieties are considered very easy to grow and tolerate a range of climates. 

Sweet peas flowers thrive in full sun.

Sweet pea flowers are considered toxic and should not be ingested.

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, Astrantia, Viburnum, Acanthus, Ranunculus, Lilies, Irises, Borage, Clovers, Freesia, Marjoram, Anemone, Begonia, Orchids, Allium, Carnations, Coreopsis, Gerbera Daisies, Gladiolus, and Peonies.  

Contributing Editor | Full Bio | + posts

Madison is a writer and editor with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science. She writes and photographs for various online and print publications in the gardening sphere and is the author of the book The Next-Generation Gardener.

Author Madison Moulton

Madison is a writer and editor with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science. She writes and photographs for various online and print publications in the gardening sphere and is the author of the book The Next-Generation Gardener.

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