White Flowers: Their Meaning & Symbolism
White flowers are often overlooked today for their more colorful counterparts, but the stark petals of these blossoms send their own beautiful message that you can’t replicate with just any other color. Choosing white blossoms sends a clear message depending on what flowers you mix and match in the arrangement. Add another layer of significance to your next floral gift by adding a few more white flowers.
Basic Color Meanings For White
Most people consider white as a blank page, with no inherent meaning, Yet this color has picked up plenty of symbolism and power over the centuries due to religious use, natural development, and personal associations. The most common meanings for this color are:
- Purity, in the sense of being free from sin since this color was associated with the Virgin Mary and similar religious figures
- Cleanliness and sterility, which can be positive or negative depending on the situation
- Faith, in a religious way or simply the belief in something bigger than yourself
- Illumination and inspiration, both artistically and academically.
These meanings are all derived from Western culture, dating back to Ancient Greece. The meaning of white developed down a different path in Asia, and instead is tied to death and the afterlife instead.
The Victorian Obsession with Purity
Purity and cleanliness was the trend of the day in Victorian England, and the fiber bleaching processes had just caught up to the demand for whiter and brighter fabrics. Aside from gleaming floor tiles and spotless under garments, the Victorians also enjoyed decorating with white flowers. Creamy carnations expressed twin messages, making it a quick way to tell someone you think they’re innocent and lovely at the same time. A white sprig of heather was considered protective and a good luck charm. The Language of Flowers also assigns importance to the white lily, which symbolized rebirth, and the white rose, commonly given to new brides after the wedding.
Why You Don’t Bring White Flowers to a Wedding in Asian Cultures
In the West, wedding halls are bedecked with bursts of white roses and similar flowers. However, bringing white flowers to a Chinese or Taiwanese wedding could get you taken off the guest list for future occasions. Any white blossom is only appropriate for funerals in Asian cultures because the color is associated with death. It’s unlucky to give someone white flowers for other occasions, so bringing the wrong bouquet could ruin the whole mood of the event. Make sure you bring white gifts for a funeral and red blossoms for a wedding. The best Asian funeral flowers include:
- The white lotus flower, which emerges from the mud to symbolize rebirth and eternal life
- Chrysanthemums, with twin meanings of truth and sympathy
- Larkspurs, bold blossoms that pop and catch the eye while exuding grief and love
- Carnations, a simple flower with deep meaning in most Asian cultures.
White Flowers with Literal Links to Death
A lovely white orchid won’t hurt you, but there are plenty of flowers with bright blossoms that literally represent death because they could kill you. The white oleander tops the list with its toxic flowers and leaves, but it’s still commonly planted as a decorative shrub because of the beautiful blossoms. Water hemlock, the plant that took the life of Socrates, also has white flowers in an umbrella shape at the top of the stem. White mountain laurels look a lot like magnolias and feed bees, but the honey produced can make you sick while the flowers and leaves themselves are poisonous enough to kill you.