White Flower Meanings, Symbolism, and Folklore

White blossoms send messages that vary across cultures and by flower species. Many white flowers symbolize hope, rebirth, and renewal, while others stand for innocence, purity, and cleanliness. Though the significance of this color in floral symbolism may have changed and evolved over time, one thing remains the same: countless types of white flowers are always a popular choice for bouquets, arrangements, and messages to those you care about. Read on to learn about the fascinating meaning and symbolism behind white flowers.

The Meaning and Symbolism of White Flowers

The Color White

When you think of the color white, what comes to mind? Perhaps you can imagine a white wedding dress or the chill of snow and ice. Maybe you think of the potential of a blank sheet of paper, or perhaps you imagine a mysterious shroud.

Of course, your associations with the color white depend on your cultural background and the era you grew up in. But is white really even a color? Though it’s common to think of white as an absence of color, in fact, it’s the sum of all colors.

In the 17th century, Newton’s experiments with light refraction showed that white light is made from a combination of other colors’ wavelengths. This means that white that’s created by light doesn’t have its own specific wavelength. Thus, it’s not considered a true color but rather is achromatic.

However, white that’s created using pigments comes in various shades. In fact, humans have been using white pigment to create art for millennia. People used bits of naturally occurring limestone, calcite, or chalk to create early artworks in prehistoric times (such as the 3,000-year-old Uffington horse in Oxfordshire, UK.)

The Historical Significance of the Color White

Historically, some of the earliest records of white pigment use stem from Italy in the 1200s. Artists crushed lime, mixed it with water, and let the slurry dry into writing instruments. And in ancient Greece, rudimentary lead paint was used not only for art but also as makeup and as a treatment for skin ailments. Of course, lead paint is now known to be toxic, so don’t try this at home!

The use of white in face makeup was a trend that continued through several centuries. In some European societies, this led to the color’s association with wealth, as a whitened face became a signifier that one was rich enough not to have to work outdoors.

What’s more, in early Europe, the color also became associated with cleanliness. In medieval times, people believed that white clothes could remove impurities from the body and were worn for health reasons. Of course, white clothes also show dirt and stains and can be challenging to keep clean. This led to a further association with wealth, as only the rich could afford to keep their white garments sparkling. Over time, white clothing grew associated with high-paying — i.e., “white collar” — work.

The color was often used in uniforms associated with cleanliness. For instance, medical staff, chefs, lab coats, and hospital workers all wore white, and some professions are still associated with clean, hygienic white garments today.

The Color White in Cultures Around the World

Brilliant white flowers in bloom

In many parts of the world, the color white has long been associated with purity. Several religions employ white as a symbol of purity. Muslims on pilgrimage, Shinto adherents in Japan, Catholic leaders, and even ancient Egyptian and Roman priests and priestesses wear the color white.

In some Eastern cultures, the color white is associated with death. For instance, in China and Japan, the color is associated with funerals and mourning. These connections to death may extend to the color of ghosts or phantoms. And in ancient Egypt, white was associated with death due to white, lifeless sand where nothing grows.

Weddings and white tend to go hand in hand in many Western cultures. However, this may seem like a timeless tradition, “white weddings” are thought to have started in the 1800s, when Queen Victoria wore a white wedding dress. Since then, the color has often been associated with innocence and honesty.

Commonly Held Symbolic Associations With the Color White

Over time, white symbolism has evolved to encompass several associations. These may include:

  • Purity
  • Goodness
  • Innocence
  • Reverance
  • Humility
  • High class
  • Wealth
  • Sophistication
  • Honesty
  • Blankness
  • Nothingness
  • Mourning
  • Sympathy
  • Possibility
  • Potential
  • Simplicity
  • Good taste

Today, many of these meanings are associated with white flowers. Read on to learn how white flowers can be used to send messages to those you care about.

About White Flowers

A tree with plumes of white flowers with blue sky in the background

Did you know that white blossoms are among the most common, if not the most common flower color? It’s impossible to put an exact number on the species of white flowers that exist, but many botanists believe that white flowers are the most common. In North America alone, there are more than 10,000 species of native plants that bloom in shades of white, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Why do certain plants produce white flowers? Flower color has to do with chemical compounds acting as pigments, specifically anthocyanin, betalain, and carotenoid. Generally, anthocyanin controls whites, reds, blues, and purple, betalains control reds, yellows, oranges, and purples, and carotenoids control oranges and yellows.

Other compounds, known as flavonoids, also influence white and light yellow flower color. These include fkaempferol, ruin and quercetin. Different combinations lead to different petal colors.

White Flowers in Ancient Times

White flowering plants in a garden

White flowers held mystical symbolism and deep meaning in some ancient cultures. For instance, in ancient Egypt, the color white was associated with the Goddess Isis. White shrouds were used to wrap the dead, and religious adherents wore white linen garments. The white lotus (Nymphaea lotus) was connected to the deity and used in worship ceremonies as a symbol of creation.

White flowers also played a role in ancient Grecian lore. White was key in a world where everything was viewed in terms of darkness and light. In mythology, white blossoms often represented purity and sometimes death.

For instance, the white flowers of Asphodelus ramosus were associated with the deities Persephone, Hekate, and Hades. The goddesses were often shown with crowns of asphodelus, and the flowers were planted around tombs.

The tale of the abduction of Persephone — or Prosperina — also involves white flowers. In this myth, Persephone and her nymphs were gathering white lilies (Lilium candidum) when she was taken by the god Haides. Many artists depicted this scene over the centuries; Walter Crane’s 1877 painting “The Fate of Persephone” prominently features white flowers.

For the ancient Romans, white lilies were an essential blossom. They were often woven into flower crowns used to celebrate the coming of spring. Conquering heroes wore floral crowns containing white flowers when returning victoriously from battle.

Victorian Times and Floriography

Small white flowers in bloom

Even after the days of ancient myth, white flowers continued to hold meaning and symbolism. Perhaps this was never more the case than in the Victorian era when the language of flowers — or floriography — held sway.

The language of flowers started as a trend among the Victorian upper class. The societal customs of the time prohibited the expression of certain feelings or emotions, so young people developed ways to communicate without saying or writing a word. Instead, they used flowers.

Couples sent floral gifts to each other, known as nosegays or tussiemussies. Each flower — and each color of flower — had a specific meaning. By using certain combinations of blossoms and colors, young lovers (or enemies) could send coded messages to one another. Even the way the gifts were accepted or worn had hidden meanings.

But the practice didn’t start in 18th century Europe. Instead, it was adopted from the Ottoman Empire. There, women who lived in harems used to use flowers to send messages to one another, usually in rhyme. The game was called selam. A visiting dignitary’s wife brought the practice back to Europe in the 1700s, quickly becoming a popular trend among the moneyed classes.

In the Victorian language of flowers, white blossoms have a wide range of meanings and associations. For instance, a white clover says, “think of me,” and a white rose says, “I’m worthy of you.” A white chrysanthemum stands for truth, a white carnation symbolizes innocent love, and a white hyacinth is associated with both loveliness and praying for someone.

White Flowers and Hanakotoba

A Japanese floral arrangement placed on the ground

In Japan, another language of flowers flourished. Known as hanakotoba, or “flower language,” the practice started in the late 1800s. Its influence can be seen in the practice of flower arranging, or ikebana, in the designs on floral kimonos, and in traditional hair ornamentation, or kanzashi.

In Japanese floriography, flowers are assigned meanings and passwords. In hanakatoba, multiple aspects of flowers have meaning, from color to plant height, and even the presence of thorns all influence the message sent.

For instance, a white anemone may stand for sincerity, and a white rose may mean devotion or innocence, while a white poppy says, “rejoice!” As in Victorian floriography, white mums stand for truth and white lilies for purity, but white camellias mean “waiting.”

What do White Flowers Mean Spiritually?

A white flower head in a bowl with burning candles alongside

White flowers play a role in spiritual practice. In traditional Christianity, the color white is often associated with purity and innocence and is used to signify the “color of the lamb.”

A white rose is sometimes used to symbolize the purity of Christ. When placed together with a red rose, the two flowers symbolize a belief in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The Bible also uses white lilies to symbolize Christ, noting their purity and sweetness, representing the resurrection.

Similarly, white roses and lilies are often used as stand-ins for the Virgin Mary. During the Renaissance, white columbines were often used to depict the story of Mary, as well as the Holy Spirit. The white blossoms of strawberry plants also signified Mary’s purity.

For Buddhists, certain types of white flowers carry special meanings. One is the frangipani; in Southeast Asia, many temples are landscaped with these fragrant white flowers. Some Buddhists also use frangipani as wedding flowers.

White hydrangea flowers play a role in Buddhist ceremonies. The leaves are brewed into a sweet tea to commemorate the Buddha’s birthday. Sometimes, statues of the Buddha are bathed in floral tea. Water lilies also hold special significance. They symbolize the transition from the material world into a spiritual state.

In Hinduism, the lotus plays a key role in puja, a form of worship that translates into “the flower ceremony.” Lotus blossoms symbolize divinity, eternity, prosperity, and fertility. The goddess Lakshmi is often depicted on a lotus, and her counterpart Vishnu usually holds a lotus.

Art & Literature

A bright white lily flower in bloom

Artists and authors use white flowers to symbolize a range of emotions. For instance, the white rose has been used in myth for millennia. They’re linked to the god Adonis, who bled onto white roses and stained them red.

The film and book White Oleander feature these toxic blossoms, but we won’t give away any spoilers. Shakespeare wrote of white flowers such as lilies, lady smocks, and roses in Love’s Labours Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Sonnets 98 and 130.

Artists love to paint lovely white flowers, too. Eduoard Manet painted a series of works featuring white lilacs. Georgia O’Keefe painted multiple works featuring white flowers, as did van Gogh and Morisot.

Modern Symbolism

Today, white flowers can be used to send a number of messages. They’re commonly used at weddings, to celebrate new beginnings, to let someone know you care, and to express sympathy.

Of course, different types of flowers send additional messages. For instance, Easter lilies are often used to bring Christ’s resurrection to mind around the Easter holiday. White roses can send a message of worthiness or let someone know they can trust you.

Suitable Gifting Occasions

A bouquet of white roses

White flowers are appropriate for many gifting occasions thanks to their diverse meanings and associations. For instance, weddings, new baby celebrations, and christenings are the perfect occasion to gift white blossoms.

Funerals and sympathy gifts are also an appropriate time to gift white flowers. White lilies are a common choice for such occasions.

Some Zodiac flowers are related to white flowers. For instance, Cancer is a white rose. As for birthday flowers, January birth month flower is a snowdrop or white carnation, April birth month flower is a daisy, and May birth month flower is the lily of the valley.

Here we’ve listed 25 of the most popular white flowers and their meaning in the language of flowers: 

1. Bellflowers (Campanula)

White Bellflowers (Campanula) in bloom

To the Victorians, white bellflowers symbolize gratitude. A nosegay that contained bellflowers was a way to say “thank you” to someone. The bellflower is also associated with support, constancy, and romance.

2. Magnolia (Magnolia)

A branch of white Magnolia (Magnolia) flowers

The white magnolia flowers symbolize pride, dignity, endurance, beauty, purity, and joy. To the Victorians, white magnolias meant perseverance, nobility, and love for nature, while in hanakatoba, the flower symbolizes nature. In the U.S., these spring bloomers are associated with the change of seasons in the South.

3. Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila)

White Baby's Breath (Gypsophila) flowers in bloom

Delicate baby’s breath flowers may be small, but they have deep meaning. It’s a popular wedding and romance flower, often associated with young love, romance, and new beginnings. In hanakotoba, baby’s breath symbolizes everlasting love and a pure heart.

4. Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum)

Large, fluffy white Chrysanthemum flowers in bloom

In many Asian cultures, white mums carry strong symbolism. In Japan, shiragiku means “truth,” and the country celebrates National Chrysanthemum Day on September 9th. To the Chinese, mums stand for happiness. In Victorian floriography, the white chrysanthemum signifies truthfulness and honesty.

5. Petunia (Petunia)

A cluster of white flowering Petunia blooms

In the past, petunia flowers symbolize resentment and anger. That’s changed today, as this cheerful flower now sends a message of trust, dignity, and calm. In floriography, a gift of petunias says, “you have a soothing presence.”

6. Hydrangea (Hydrangea)

A large single white Hydrangea flower head

In many Western cultures, hydrangea flowers may send mixed messages, symbolizing grace and purity while being associated with pride, boasting, and vanity. To the Victorians, white hydrangea said, “Thanks for being understanding.”

7. Dahlia (Dahlia)

Three white Dahlia flowers in bloom in a garden

The eye-catching dahlia looks elegant in white, making it a popular choice for weddings. Dahlia flower symbolize lasting commitment and are the birth flower of August. White dahlias send a message of focus, while a single white dahlia says, “you have good taste!”

8. Peony (Paeonia)

A bright white Peony flower in bloom in a garden

The gorgeous peony grows in many shades of white and carries the meaning of happy marriage or bashfulness. In China and Japan, peony flowers are associated with prosperity, luck, honor, romance, and beauty.

9. Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum)

White Star of Bethlehem flowers growing in a garden

To the Victorians, the Star of Bethlehem flower symbolizes modesty and uprightness and was associated with Christianity, purity, innocence, forgiveness, and redemption. It’s a popular gift around Christmas and was a symbol of wonder and miracles in ancient Greece.

10. Osmanthus (Osmanthus)

A blooming Osmanthus bush with white flowers

The fragrant white osmanthus flower symbolizes faithful love and fertility. It’s a popular wedding flower in China and is often given as a gift from a bride to her new family. The flowers also symbolize peace and prosperity.

11. Mock Orange (Philadelphus)

White Mock Orange flowers with yellow stamens

With their sweet, jasmine, and citrus scent, the white flowers of mock orange are popular ornamentals that are rich in meaning and symbolism. They also carry a complex meaning in the Victorian language of flowers: disappointment. But don’t let that historical symbolism stop you from gifting these fresh, aromatic blossoms.

12. Lisianthus (Eustoma)

A bouquet of white lisianthus flowers in bloom

The lovely lisianthus resembles a rose and is a popular choice among florists and wedding planners. They’ve also got a historical association with thankfulness and gratitude, making them a perfect way to say “thank you” or “I appreciate you!” The flowers symbolize traditional values, devotion, and eternal love.

13. Cosmos (Cosmos)

Bright white Cosmos flowers growing in a garden

Colorful cosmos are a popular choice to light up any garden. But when cosmos bloom in pristine white, they carry additional meaning that of faithfulness and devoted love. They also signify purity, joy, beauty, harmony, peace, and the joy that life can often bring.

14. Calla Lily (Zantedeschia)

A single white Calla Lily flower

The white calla lily may be best known for its associations with modesty and beauty. It’s often given as a sympathy gift or in spring to symbolize rebirth and renewal. In the Victorian era, calla lilies carried the additional significance of appreciation and admiration.

15. Hibiscus (Hibiscus)

A single white Hibiscus flower in bloom

The tropical hibiscus may be famous for its fiery, tropical red, orange, and pink hues, but it also grows in bright white. These dramatic but short-lived white flowers carry a range of meanings, from feminine beauty and purity to youth, glory, and success.

16. Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera)

A bouquet of white Gerbera Daisies

The April birth flower, gerbera daisies, can’t help but make anyone smile. These cheerful blossoms are also associated with joy, beauty, purity, and innocence. White gerbera daisies are the official flower of the fifth wedding anniversary.

17. Tulip (Tulipa)

White tulips flowering in a garden

The ever-popular tulip carries a range of symbolic associations, from true love to smiles and sunshine. But white tulips have the additional meaning of purity and peace. They’re a perfect way to apologize and let someone know you want to make peace.

18. Rose (Rosa)

A single white flowering rose with bright sunlight in the background

Always striking and in-demand, white roses symbolize innocence, purity, and new beginnings, making them a popular wedding choice. They also stand for youth and humility. To the Victorians, a gift of a white rose said, “I’m worthy of you!” but could also stand for silence and secrecy.

19. Clematis (Clematis)

White Clematis flowers in bloom

The climbing clematis vine blooms in a range of colors. White clematis flowers have a complex meaning; they may stand for mental beauty or signify artifice or ingenuity. They also may symbolize healing after grief, humility, or innocence.

20. Easter Lily (Lilium longiflorum)

White Easter Lily flowers in bloom

The fragrant Easter lily is associated with the Christian resurrection and is often gifted around the Easter holiday. It stands for hope, rebirth, and purity. Legend says that these white flowers grew in the garden of Gethsemane, sprouting where drops of Christ’s sweat fell on the ground.

21. Begonia (Begonia)

White blooming Begonia plants

Like many other white flowers, the white begonia symbolizes purity and innocence. They’re a popular choice for weddings, new baby gifts, and christenings. Interestingly, in Victorian floriography, the begonia meant “beware!”

22. Snowdrop (Galanthus)

Small white Snowdrop flowers in bloom

The birth flower of January, the white snowdrop heralds the end of winter and the coming of spring. As such, it’s associated with renewal, rebirth, and fertility. To the Victorians, the flower meant “death.” Today, however, snowdrops send an uplifting message of sympathy and hope.

23. Lilac (Syringa)

Plumes of tiny white Lilac flowers with yellow centers

The heavenly scent of lilac is associated with spring, renewal, and the joy of youth. White lilacs, in particular, carry the additional meaning of purity, innocence, hope, and divinity.

24. Ranunculus (Ranunculus)

A vase filled with white Ranunculus flowers

The attractive blooms of ranunculus, a favorite of florists and wedding planners, play a role in both Native American and Persian folklore. In floriography, these dainty flowers symbolize charm, elegance, grace, and pure love.

25. Camellia (Camellia)

A single white flowering Camellia

To the Victorians, a white camellia meant “you’re adorable!” In hanakotoba, a white camellia meant “I’m waiting!” In Chinese culture, these early bloomers are associated with romantic love and devotion. Today, a gift of white camellias is the perfect way to let someone know how much you care.

White Flower Meaning and Symbolism FAQs: 

What does a white flower mean in love?

Different types of white flowers have varying meanings in the language of flowers when it comes to love and romantic sentiment. For instance, white carnations symbolize innocent love, white camellias symbolize devoted love, and white ranunculus symbolize pure love.

Do white flowers mean peace?

Many types of white flowers are commonly associated with peace, such as Osmanthus, Cosmos, and Tulip flowers.

Is white flower good luck?

White peony flowers are commonly associated with sentiments of good luck and prosperity.

Are white flowers romantic?

All sorts of white flowers carry the meaning and symbolism of romance, including classic white roses, bellflowers, baby’s breath, and peonies.

What does a white flower mean spiritually?

White hydrangea flowers play a role in Buddhist ceremonies. The leaves are brewed into a sweet tea to commemorate the Buddha’s birthday. Sometimes, statues of the Buddha are bathed in floral tea. Water lilies also hold special significance. They symbolize the transition from the material world into a spiritual state.

In Hinduism, the lotus plays a key role in puja, a form of worship that translates into “the flower ceremony.” Lotus blossoms symbolize divinity, eternity, prosperity, and fertility. The goddess Lakshmi is often depicted on a lotus, and her counterpart Vishnu usually holds a lotus.

What does a single white flower mean?

A single white rose is a simple yet significant way to send the message “I love you” to someone. It can also mean love at first sight and a demonstration of your commitment and devotion to another. A single rose is a perfect choice for romantic occasions.

The Final Word

As one of the most common flower colors worldwide, it’s not surprising that white blossoms carry such a wide range of meanings. From innocence and young love to honesty and devotion, happiness and hope to elegance and new beginnings, white flowers bring a bright touch of thoughtfulness to any floral gift thanks to their storied history and rich meaning and symbolism today.

Further reading: Discover 75 beautiful types of white flowers for your garden or next floral arrangement.

Contributing Editor | linsay@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.

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