The Christmas season in the UK is synonymous with fir and spruce trees, holly, ivy, and mistletoe but in other cultures these flowers, plants and trees often hold a different relevance.
Language and culture play a large part in the significance we give to something; whether it be a flower, tree, animal, colour, symbol, or so on, each culture has created its own symbolism surrounding these objects and there are often hidden implications which an outsider to the culture would not understand or appreciate.
These hidden meanings can lead to potential issues for businesses who use floral images in their branding, marketing materials, or websites for their international audiences, so we’ve created this quick guide to help you figure out which flowers and colours can be used and where.
In the UK, white flowers are generally considered to signify purity, chastity and virtue (relating to the Virgin Mary) and are often found in wedding bouquets, however, one exception to this rule is the white lily which is used for funerals.
In other cultures though, white flowers can signify something very different.
Many Asian cultures consider white to be associated with death, mourning and bad luck, and in some European countries such as Italy and France, white chrysanthemums are placed on graves as memorials.
In Brazil it is unwise to use purple flowers in marketing campaigns as they are considered a symbol of mourning.
In many Western counties however, purple is seen as a symbol of royalty, wealth and fame (think of flowing, royal robes), so in this instance, purple flowers such as wisteria, clematis and rhododendron signify high status.
Purple flowers such as, lavender and rosemary are well known for their relaxing properties in many cultures, while In India, the pale purple lotus holds the highest status.
Green Flowers and Foliage
In Ireland, the three-leafed green shamrock is their national symbol, signifying the Holy Trinity and also hope, love and faith. It is considered to be a good luck symbol across most Western cultures.
Green is also frequently linked to fertility, regeneration, nature and fidelity (except in China where wearing a green hat may mean you are cheating on your spouse), so the use of foliage such as, ivy in wedding bouquets is common. Ivy wreaths were used by the Romans as a symbol of intellectual, or sporting, achievement.
Green is the traditional colour of Islam so throughout the Middle East it stands for good fortune, wealth and fertility but is also a colour that should be honoured.
Red roses signify romantic love in the UK but the colour red is also linked to danger, excitement and passion so it is worth considering using red flowers very carefully as it can have a variety of meanings, even within the same culture.
In the North-east area of Spain the Catalan people traditionally celebrate Saint George’s Day (the patron saint of the area) by lovers exchanging blood-red roses.
In India, red is considered the colour of purty, and is synonymous with spirituality and sensuality but it Nigeria it is the colour of aggression and many African nations associate it with death.
Conversely, in China, red is the colour of happiness, so red flowers signify energy, pleasure and determination, while the lighter pink shades suggest friendship and joy.
Red berries from the holly tree are linked to Christmas and Christianity, especially in the UK, so use of these in non-Christian countries may be misinterpreted.
When considering which floral images to use within your marketing, promotions or website, be aware of cultural changes and how they might be perceived by your viewing audience.
If you have any experiences regarding the cultural relevance of flowers you’d like to share with us, please add your comment below.