Ultimate Guide to Red Flower Meaning and Symbolism

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The History, Origins, Meaning, and Symbolism of Red Flowers

From the earliest cave paintings — created by our ancestors 17,000 years ago — to today’s red carpet rollouts, there’s one color that reigns supreme: red. Red has long symbolized life, love, vigor, power, and beauty, and it’s easy to see why. This primary color is, indeed, primary; it’s the first color babies see as their eyes develop, a dominant color in all societies around the world, and a favorite color in garden landscapes and floral gifts. Here we’ll take you through the history and origins of red flower meaning and symbolism and their cultural significance in the world today. 


The Meaning & Symbolism of Red Flowers

In the language of flowers, the color red traditionally conveys deep emotions. Whether symbolizing love, passion, beauty, or power, this primary color commands attention. Red flowers send a strong message, from the romance of red roses to the beauty of red carnations, red chrysanthemums for love, and cardinal flowers for distinction.


The Color Red

The Color Red

Red truly is a primary color, in all senses of the word. It’s the first color babies see when their eyes start to develop and the first color those experiencing color blindness due to brain injury see when they heal. It’s even the first color (after black and white) that most societies named.

Red’s primacy echoes throughout history and across cultures. Humans have used red in art since neolithic times. Some of the earliest cave paintings, dating back tens of thousands of years, feature red pigment made from ochre, a reddish-brown clay.

The Evolution of Meaning Associated With Red Colors

Many ancient graves contain traces of red pigment, as well. It’s thought that Stone Age peoples anointed their dead with ocher pigments and powders, perhaps to protect against evil spirits or mark graves. Red pottery has been found in China dating to 5000 BC. This pre-historical evidence points to the color’s importance in symbolism and ritual.

Perhaps red’s primacy is due in large part to its association with blood and hearts. The color has had meaning associated with the most basic of human activities — life, death, battle, and love — as well as vigor and power.

Though long associated with the monarchy, red became linked to revolutionaries in later years. A symbol of freedom, red was adopted by fighters in the French, Bolshevik, Cuban, and Chinese Cultural revolutions. It’s also a popular color in national symbolism. Military and law enforcement uniforms often use red, as do flags. Many sports teams employ red, as well, pointing to the color’s connections to strength, dominance, and vigor.

Red Symbolism in Ancient Rome

Red Symbolism in Ancient Rome

To the ancient Romans, red was the color of both blood and courage. It was associated with Mars, the god of war. Roman soldiers went to battle dressed in red tunics, while generals wore crimson cloaks and painted their bodies red after a victory.

But red has also long been associated with love, passion, fidelity and fertility. Archeologists have uncovered red carnelian beads dating back 15,000 years that are carved with the image of the goddess Hathor, the deity of love and joy. In ancient Rome, brides wore a flammeum, or red shawl, at their weddings. Today, Chinese brides still wear red, walk down a red carpet to their wedding, and are carried on red litters.

At first, red pigments were made using ochre, which is readily available in many parts of the world, such as Europe, Asia, South Africa, and Australia, where early cave paintings have been found. This clay creates a reddish-brown hue. Over the centuries, new ways to create stronger, brighter red pigments grew popular.

Egyptians and Romans favored cinnabar, a mercuric mineral that ranges in color from scarlet to brick. Cinnabar paintings can be seen on the ruins of Pompeii. The color was prized… and expensive. Mined in Spain for elite Romans, the mineral was so toxic that miners often died of exposure.

The Color Red in Christianity

In the Middle Ages, red became the dominant color of the dominant religion, Christianity. In this context, red symbolized the blood of Christ. Martyrs were associated with red, and Cardinals in the Catholic Church wore (and still wear) long red robes.

This divine color has long been associated with royalty, power, and prestige. Red pigments were found on a paint palette in King Tut’s tomb in Egypt. Charlemagne is said to have worn red shoes and painted the walls of his palace crimson. 

Red in Art & Literature 

Red in Art & Literature

In China, artists and artisans used vermilion to create paintings and pottery. Here, red stood for life, good fortune, leadership, and prosperity. It was used to decorate temples and royal carriages. This orange-red color was exported across the Middle East and Europe and was adopted by artists. During the Renaissance, painters such as Titian grew famous for their use of vermilion hues. 

But red wasn’t limited to the Old World. In the New World, Aztec artisans used cochineal, a beetle, to create brilliant red dyes and gorgeous textiles. Spanish colonials brought these red pigments back to Europe, where they quickly became popular among the wealthy. Painters such as Rembrandt and Velasquez used cochineal, known as carmine, in their art.

The Symbolic Meaning of the Color Red Around the World:

Across cultures, red holds important symbolism, including:

  • Buddhism: One of the colors that emanated from the Buddha at enlightenment
  • China: Symbol of fire, courage, fertility, fortune, honor, loyalty, passion, prosperity, success
  • Christianity: Blood of Christ, divinity, sacrifice, martyrdom
  • Hinduism: The goddess Lakshmi, beauty, wealth
  • Japan: Heroism
  • India: Marriage, brides
  • Ndembu of Central Africa: Life, health
  • Shinto: Passing into a sacred space
  • Vietnam: Celebration, happiness, love, luck
  • Western Europe and the U.S: Love, passion, romance, style, strength, vigor, power, elite, celebrity

About Red Flowers

About Red Flowers

Red flowers add a bright splash of color to the landscape and liven up floral gifts. Though red blooms are popular, they’re not the most common color in the plant world. In fact, some estimate that red flowers, along with blue flowers, are one of the least common colors.

While there may not be that many red species, botanists and gardeners have cultivated thousands of hybrids and varieties of plants that bloom in red. As such, red flowers grow across the world. However, red blooms are commonly found in tropical and temperate climates.

Each plant’s specific pigments determine the color of its blossoms. Three chemical compounds — anthocyanins, carotenoids, and, to a lesser extent, betalains — are responsible for most red blooms.


The Cultural Significance of Red Flowers in Ancient Greece

The Cultural Significance of Red Flowers in Ancient Greece

Red flowers have featured prominently in ancient Greek mythology, such as the death of Adonis. This handsome young man was beloved of both Aphrodite/Venus, the goddess of love. After Adonis was injured by a boar, Aphrodite rushed to his aid, only to find his blood spilling on the ground. Where the drops landed, the goddess caused red anemones, or windflowers, to grow.

Dianthus, or carnations, are also a subject of myth. Artemis/Diana, the goddess of the hunt, was down on her luck. After a disappointing hunt, she heard a shepherd playing his flute and blamed him for scaring the game away. Angrily, she gouged out his eyes. After her rage passed, she felt guilty and caused red carnations to grow where the shepherd bled upon the ground.

Greek mythology also tells the origin story of the red rose. Chloris, the goddess of flowers, found a dead nymph in the woods one day. Saddened at the loss of such a beautiful creature, Chloris transformed her into a red rose. Aphrodite contributed to the rose’s beauty, Dionysus the flower’s sweet fragrance, and wind god Zephyrus blew away the clouds to let the sun shine on the beautiful bloom.


Red Flowers in the 1700s and Victorian Times

Red Flowers in the 1700s and Victorian Times

Red flowers play an important role in the language of flowers. To the Victorians, red blossoms had a number of meanings. When given in floral gifts, these blooms told a story and sent important messages.

For instance, red carnations symbolized love and beauty, but might also mean that the giver’s heart ached. Red camellias meant that a flame burned in the giver’s heart.

Red chrysanthemums meant “I love you,” as did a red rose. Red salvia stood for “forever mine,” and red tulips were a declaration of passionate, eternal love. Red ranunculus told the recipient that the giver was dazzled by their charms.

A red columbine, however, symbolized anxiety and trembling. Red hyacinths could be used to indicate playfulness.


What do Red Flowers Mean Spiritually?

What do Red Flowers Mean Spiritually?

Red flowers play a role in several spiritual traditions. To Christians, red poinsettias are a symbol of the Christmas holiday. This red blossom is known as the “Christmas star.” Red roses symbolize the blood of Christ, and sometimes are associated with the Virgin Mary. Red cyclamen are sometimes linked to the Virgin Mary, as well. The deep red center of the flower is said to represent Mary’s heart bleeding for her son.

Certain saints are associated with red roses, as well, such as St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She secretly distributed bread to the poor and when her husband caught her, the bread turned to red roses.

For Buddhists, a red lotus represents compassion and love. If the lotus is closed, it stands for a pre-enlightened state, while a blooming lotus represents self-awareness.

Hindus worship the goddess Kali using red hibiscus. These bright blooms represent Kali’s tongue and ferocity and are thought to bring wealth.


Red Flowers in Art & Literature

Red flowers feature prominently in many well-known artworks, such as British artist David Hockney’s “Red Flowers and Green Leaves.” Georgia O’Keefe painted red flowers in the early 20th century, and Henri Matisse is well-known for his paintings of red anemones. Several Dutch artists painted red flowers in the 1600s and 1700s.

Red blossoms appear in literature, as well. Shakespeare is well-known for including lines about flowers in his works. Roses often feature prominently in artistic works, such as Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” and songs by artists such as David Bowie, Seal, Blondie, and Bette Midler.


The Most Suitable Gifting Occasions & Uses of Red Flowers

The Most Suitable Gifting Occasions & Uses of Red Flowers

Today, red flowers still impart deep meaning. Most commonly, they symbolize feelings of love, passion, and romance. This makes red flowers — especially roses, carnations, chrysanthemums, and tulips — a perfect addition to a bouquet for a special date night, a romantic occasion, Valentine’s Day, or an anniversary.

For instance, people often give red carnations to commemorate the first anniversary. The 15th anniversary is celebrated with a gift of red roses. It’s also an appropriate flower for weddings to symbolize love.

Red is also an exciting, energetic color, that may stand for power, courage, and vigor. Flowers such as red hyacinths may add a splash of brightness and cheer to a happy birthday or congratulations bouquet.


Red flowers a wonderful choice for floral giving and the home garden. Among the most popular species are:

Roses

Red roses stand for passion and love, and they’re a very popular gift for romantic occasions of all types. Along with their rich red color, roses add a stunning fragrance to floral gifts.

Anemone

Anemone

The anemone, or windflower, carries with it the myth of Aphrodite’s love for Adonis. They’re a popular flower for wedding arrangements and bouquets.

Amaryllis

The amaryllis may bloom rarely, but when it does, its trumpet-shaped blossoms are absolutely striking in the landscape. It’s also a dramatic addition to floral gifts, symbolizing radiant beauty in the language of flowers.

Begonia

Begonia

This beautiful perennial has long-lasting blooms that enliven the landscape. Begonia stands for gratitude and individuality and makes a great addition to floral gifts for friends, family, or co-workers.

Hibiscus

The lush hibiscus brings tropical flair to any floral design. It’s also a symbol of feminine beauty, making it a perfect gift for that special woman in your life.

Ranunculus

Ranunculus

With its meaning of attractiveness and charm, the playful ranunculus is a great addition to a date night bouquet.

Petunia

The summery red petunia stands for hope. Petunias don’t last long as cut flowers, so live plants are preferable.

Tulip

Tulip

The red tulip stands for passion and makes a strong declaration of love. Save it for special anniversaries, romantic occasions, and weddings.

Cardinal

Spiky cardinal flowers symbolize distinction. They’re a great addition to floral gifts commemorating achievements and celebrations of milestones.

Dahlia

Dahlia

The dramatic dahlia makes quite a statement, both in the garden and in floral arrangements. They’re also a symbol of achievement, making them a good choice for anniversary and congratulations floral gifts.


Wrap Up

As one of the first colors humans see — and one of the first to be used in art — red has many meanings and plays an important role in cultural and spiritual traditions. Around the world, red flowers may stand for love, passion, pride, strength, vigor, and more. They’re a perfect choice for declaring your love for someone, commemorating special occasions, and honoring achievements.


Red Flower Meaning FAQ: 

Flower color meaning and symbolism dates back to ancient times and has evolved over time to convey sentiments and feelings that words alone could not portray. Today, both the flower type and inherent colors contribute to the meaning and symbolism of a particular bloom.

In the language of flowers, the color red traditionally conveys deep emotions. Whether symbolizing love, passion, beauty, or power, this primary color commands attention.

Red flowers impart deep meaning. Most commonly, they symbolize feelings of love, passion, and romance. This makes red flowers — especially roses, carnations, chrysanthemums, and tulips — a perfect addition to a bouquet for a special date night, a romantic occasion, Valentine’s Day, or an anniversary.

Red roses stand for passion and love, and they’re a very popular gift for romantic occasions of all types. Along with their rich red color, roses add a stunning fragrance to floral gifts.


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