From bustling flower market stalls, and quaint French florist shops to the Royal Gardens of Versailles and the lavender fields of Provence, flowers have always been an important part of French culture.
In this article, we’ll explore the colourful world of France’s best-known and most popular flowers, their flower names in French, and hidden meanings as defined by the “langage des fleurs” (language of flowers).
Iris: The inspiration for the “fleur de Lys”
The Yellow Iris flower, which is native to Europe, has a special place in French culture because it’s widely believed that it was the inspiration for the fleur-de-lis, the French symbol and emblem for French royalty and nobility.
flag Iris / Iris pseudacorus
French flower name: Iris /ee-reese/
Meaning: nobility, chivalry, wisdom, faith, and purity
There is always a bit of confusion about the fleur de lys because, literally translated, it means “lily flower” not Iris.
You can read more about France’s national flower here.
The mysterious French fleur-de-lys: It’s not what you think it is
White Lily: (Madonna Lily)
French flower name: Lys /lease/
Meaning: Purity, nobility, virginity, chaste love
Another important flower of France is the white Lily (Lilium candidum).
It’s one of the five flowers associated with the Virgin Mary and is a popular choice for bridal bouquets.
The white Lily is often depicted in paintings of the Virgin Mary and has become a symbol of purity and virginity.
Because it only blooms around the time of Assumption in mid-August and it’s association with the Virgin Mary, the white Lily is also known as the following.
- Madonna lily
- Assomption lily.
Roses are the most popular flowers in France:
Roses are a fixture in French culture thanks to Empress Joséphine (1763-1814), Napoléon Bonaparte’s first wife, who had a passion for roses, and loved gardens.
She collected and planted exotic plants from around the world and created the world’s first “rose-only” garden on the grounds of her English-style pleasure garden at Château de Malmaison.
It was the greatest rose garden ever known in Europe (at the time).
Josephine is not only responsible for popularizing breeding roses throughout France, she inspired generations of rosarians and countless rose gardens worldwide.
French flower name: Rose
The meanings of different rose colours.
- Red rose: (love, pleasure, passion)
- Pink rose: (true love, tenderness, joy)
- White rose: (charm, innocence, shy love)
- Orange rose: (desire)
- Yellow rose: (infidelity, possibly forgiven)
- Blue rose (Mystery)
- Purple rose: (majesty and glory)
1 ) La France: A hybrid tea rose bred in France:
The first modern roses were created by Jean-Baptiste André Guillot in 1867 by cross-breeding the large Hybrid Perpetuals with tea roses.
All rise species before 1867 are considered antique or “old garden roses.”
2 ) The French rose / Rosa Gallica
The Group of roses known by their scientific name Rosa Gallica are often called French roses thanks to Josephine Bonaparte, who cultivated and popularized them. The French rose is one of the earliest cultivated species of roses in France.
French flower name: Oiellet /Uh-Yeh/
According to Statista, carnations are one of the 15 most popular types of flowers in France, based on a survey published in 2022.
Carnations, native to the Mediterranean, are one of the oldest cultivated flowers in the world, first cultivated by the Greeks and Romans over two thousand years ago.
Did you know that the first carnations in the US were shipped in 1852 from France to Long Island?
Carnations have been bred into a broad spectrum of colours—each with its special meaning. Most carnations signify positive meanings. However, some colours don’t have such cheery, uplifting meanings.
Carnation colours with positive meanings:
Dark Red Carnation: Love, affection
Light Red Carnation: Respect, admiration. In Italy, France and Austria, some people wear a red carnation on May 1st for labour day.
Pink Carnation: Gratitude
Green Carnation: Depending on the culture, green carnations can signify luck and prosperity. Oscar Wilde, a writer who was incarcerated in 1895 for being gay, made wearing a green carnation a secret hint that you were gay.
In 1892, Oscar Wilde asked a handful of his friends to wear green carnations on their lapels to the opening night of one of his comedy shows. From then on, it became a powerful queer symbol.
Carnation colours with less-than-cheery meanings
Yellow Carnation: Disappointment, rejection, contempt
Purple Carnations: Purple carnations can sometimes represent fickleness. However, in France, people frequently use them as flowers to honour and remember the deceased by placing them on gravesites or caskets.
Striped Carnation: Regret, rejection
White Carnation: In some cultures, white carnations are a symbol of good luck, but in France, a white carnation is thought of as bad luck.
Striped carnation: Regret, rejection
Other Popular flowers in France & their meanings
French flower name: l’orchidée
Meaning: Love, beauty, thoughtfulness, refinement, fertility, charm, spirituality, and mystery.
Orchids are the second most popular flowers in France in terms of sales and are easy to find in gardening stores, florist shops, and even French grocery stores in France. One of the most common types of orchids you’ll come across is the moth orchid “Orchidée papillon,” known by its scientific name “phalaenopsis.” Moth Orchids are popular as indoor plants because they’re easy to care for.
French flower name: La Pivoine
Meaning: Love, beauty, romance, and sincerity.
Pivoines are the third most popular flower in France based on sales, according to Statista.
French flower name: Le Lilas
Meaning: First love, youthful beauty
Tulips are extremely popular in France and come in a variety of species and colours; however, one of the most popular species of Tulips In France is the “Tulipa gesneriana,” an ornamental bulbous flower commonly referred to as the garden tulip.
It became associated with luxury and elegance in France during the 18th century when French aristocracy cultivated them in their lavish gardens.
Red tulip: La Tulipe rouge
Meaning: declaration of love (more discreet than the rose)
White tulip: La Tulipe Blanche
Lily of the Valley Flower
French flower name: Le Muguet /Luh-Moo-Jhey/
Meaning: Purity, happiness, good fortune
Lily of the Valley is a well-known flowering plant with delicate white bell-shaped flowers. It’s extremely popular in France, especially on May 1st during “La Fête du Muguet,” when it’s customary to give a sprig, bouquet or the entire plant to loved ones to show appreciation and good luck. The plant symbolizes the arrival of spring and is also associated with the Virgin Mary. It’s also a popular choice for bridal bouquets and floral arrangements.
French flower name: Les Jonquilles /Ley-Jhon-kee/
French flower name: L’Hortensia
Meaning: Cold beauty, indifference
French flower name: Les marguerites
Meaning: Purity, innocence, loyal love
Meaning: Magnificence, elegance, tenderness, friendship. In dreams, mimosa is a sign of security, Fragility, and sensitivity.
Mimosa flowers are a popular sight in France during the winter months, between December and March, when they are in full bloom. These flowers are cut from the yellow-blooming acacia tree, which is native to Australia but was introduced to France in the 19th century and is primarily grown in southern France, on the French Riviera, for
Many festivals feature the mimosa, including the Carnival de Nice in February, where floats are adorned with the mimosa plant and the Mimosa festival in Mandelieu-La-Napoule, the capital of mimosa in France.
French flower name:Le Dahlia
Meaning: wealth, elegance, love, involvement
The dahlia is a friendly flower and the perfect way to express gratitude and appreciation. This beautiful flower would be a great addition to your mothers’s Day bouquet.
Dhalia flowers in France were popular thanks to Empress Josephine Bonaparte, who grew these in her garden at Chateau de Malmaison.
Red Poppy: (Veterans day/armistice day)
French flower name: Coquelicot Rouge /Ko-kuh-lee-koe/
Meaning: Consolation, remembrance
People all around the world wear a red poppy on their lapels or pinned to clothing on Veterans’ Day in the US, called Armistice Days in Europe.
French humanitarian Anna A. Guérin started the tradition of wearing a poppy during her post-war charity work. Ever since, the red poppy has become the flower of remembrance to symbolize the spilled blood of fallen soldiers on the battlefields of WWI.
French flower name: La Lavande
Although French lavender is not native to France, most people associate it with France due to its widespread cultivation in Provence, where it’s called “Lavande de Provence,” “Lavande Française,” or “Lavandin.”
Lavender flowers are native to drier parts of Spain, Greece and North Africa but have been grown in Europe for centuries, dating back to the ancient Phonecians, Egyptians and Romans.
It was first used for its oil as a medicine and hygiene ingredient. Its name is from the Latin verb “lavo” (to wash) and was commonly used in Roman baths. It’s remained in soaps and cosmetics ever since and is one of the ingredients in French herbes de Provence.
French flower name: Glaïeuls /Gleye-yuhl/
General Meaning: Honour, remembrance, loyalty, sincerity, honesty, integrity
Red: love and passion
Pink: femininity, compassion and motherly love
White: Innocence and purity
Yellow: cheerfulness and compassion
Violet/Purple: charm, grace and mystery
Gladiolus in English and Glaïeuls in French come from the Latin “gladius,” which means sword. Gladioli were considered the gladiator’s flower in ancient Rome and were associated with swords because of their sword-like leaves.
Because of their association with gladiators, the Gladiolus meaning became associated with strength and integrity. But they also symbolize infatuation.
French flower name: Le Tournesol
Meaning: Respect, pride
French flower name: La Violette
Meaning: Modesty, fondness, loyalty, affection, young love, or initial stages of a romantic relationship
White Cala Lily
French flower name: Lys Calla Blanc
Meaning: rebirth, resurrection, purity, holiness, and faithfulness
An elegant and versatile flower is the Calla lily, which is not a lily. A Swedish botanist (Carolus Linnaeus) mistakenly named this plant, and the name stuck.
“Calla” is a Greek word that means “beauty” and comes in various colours, including pink, purple, yellow, and even black. Each colour has a different meaning, but the white ones are most frequently seen in bridal bouquets and at weddings because of their symbolism of rebirth and new beginnings.
White Calla lilies also represent rebirth and the purification of the soul, which is why you’ll also see the Cala lily at funerals because it gives hope to grieving families.
Flowers relating to death, mourning or grief
Certain flowers are tied to death, mourning, despair and or grief.
It’s okay to buy these for yourself, but think twice before giving them as gifts unless they’re for a funeral or to give someone your sympathies.
Chrysanthemum! (November 1st: All Saints Day)
French flower name: Chrysanthème /Chreeze-on-tem/
Meaning: Sympathy, honour, peace and beauty
Native to Asia, the name Chrysanthemum means Golden flower from ancient Greek “Chrys” ( gold ) and “anthemon”( flower.)
In some countries, like China, the Chrysanthemum symbolizes something cheerful, like life and rebirth. However, in other countries like France, Belgium, and Germany, it’s associated with death and mourning. Chrysanthemum flowers are used as a symbol of All Saints’ Day, also known as Day of the Dead in some cultures, which takes place on November 1st. It’s customary to visit the cemetery and place flowers on the graves to remember honour and in remembrance of loved ones who have passed away.
French flower name: Le Souci (The worry)
Meaning: Srief, despair, sadness, sorrow
Calendula officinalis, commonly known as pot marigolds, are called “le souci” in French, which translates to “the worry.”
French name: Oeillet d’inde (literally “Carnation of India”)
Meaning: jealousy, grief, despair, chagrin, deception, the end of a relationship, and mourning
French Marigolds are not really French flowers. Its species is called Tagetes patula, indigenous to Mexico and Guatemala. Explorers brought seeds back to Europe in the early 16th century, where they quickly became a garden favourite. When French breeders got their hands on the Marigold, they developed many new hybrids, which became known as French Marigold flowers.
Although many cultures associate the Marigold with happiness and the sun, it sometimes symbolizes darker emotions such as jealousy, grief, despair, and mourning.
In Hispanic countries that celebrate the Day of the Dead, it’s called “flower of the dead” (flor de muerto.)
*Note: Many of the vintage watercolour illustrations of flowers in this post were painted by Belgian artist and botanist Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840). He was also the court artist for Josephine Bonaparte (Empress of France) and studied her garden at the Château de Malmaison, where he created many of his most famous works.