Most people know they have a birthstone, but did you know that you also have a birth flower, also called a birth month flower?
The idea of linking each lunar month to a specific flower can be traced back to ancient Rome, when flowers were given as offerings to the gods on their feast days. Which flowers represent which month has however changed over the centuries, and indeed, varies somewhat from country to country.
The language of flowers, which developed during the Victorian era, adds a bit of extra interest to the birth flower of the month. During the Victorian period, directly expressing love or affection was considered taboo. But each flower had a specific meaning, so you could compose a romantic message by assembling a bouquet of flowers.
So what is your birth flower? Let’s see:
There are three birth flowers for December: holly, Paperwhite narcissus and poinsettia. How did that happen? Read on!
The holly (Ilex spp.) is the oldest of the December birth flowers, venerated in pagan cultures for thousands of years. It’s not actually a flower, of course, but a shrub grown for its glossy, spiny leaves and its bright red berries. In fruit, it is one of the best-known Christmas symbols.
In the language of flowers, the holly is the symbol of domestic happiness.
The Paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus) was adopted later, during Victorian times. It’s easy to grow in a pot for bloom in December: just pot up the bulbs in November (they are widely available in garden centers all fall), water them and keep them cool and moist. It often starts to bloom in 5 weeks! The Paperwhite narcissus makes a good although short-lived houseplant, but is not hardy outdoors unless you live in a mild climate (hardiness zones 8 to 10).
In the language of flowers, its fragrant white blooms symbolize coldness and self-esteem.
In the United States, the florist industry didn’t much like either December choices and substituted their own preference: the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). Buy one already in bloom and you’ll find it easy to maintain not only during the month of December, but even until spring. The most important thing is to ensure adequate watering, because if the plant dries out, the leaves and the colored bracts that make it so attractive drop off and don’t regrow.
Maintaining a poinsettia is fairly easy, but getting it to rebloom it requires a bit more effort. Here’s how to do it.
The poinsettia came onto the scene well after the language of flowers was well-established, but never fear: the florist industry invented their own meanings for the poinsettia — good cheer and success!
The carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) is the flower of January. It usually bears a strongly and attractively scented double flower and can be an annual or a perennial, depending on the variety you choose. It doesn’t bloom naturally in January, of course, but is offered year round as a cut flower.
According to the language of flowers, the carnation symbolizes love, pride, beauty, purity, distinction and fascination.
If you ever you don’t like carnations, the alternate birth flower of January is the snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) which blooms as early as January in milder parts of Europe. It is synonymous with hope.
If February is birth month, your flower is the sweet violet (Viola odorata). Small and discreet, but famous for its intense fragrance, the sweet violet is a perennial of European fields and woodlands and has escaped culture in parts of North America. Both leaves and flowers are edible and the blooms are sometimes used to make candied violets. The leaves, for their part, are harvested for the perfume industry.
In the language of flowers, the violet, whose flower always bends a bit downward, is the symbol of modesty. In bouquets, it means you’ll always be true.
Although violets were once mass-produced as cut flowers in greenhouses and nosegays (a small hand-held bouquet) of violets were all the rage in the late 19th century, they have pretty much gone out of style. So the florist industry has again stepped in with a substitute February birth flower that makes a much showier bouquet: the Dutch iris (Iris x hollandica). It can be forced in greenhouses for bloom in almost any month, including February. The iris symbolizes faith, courage and wisdom.
In the United States, the primrose (Primula spp.) is also proposed as the birth flower of February. It is one of the earliest perennials to flower (primrose means “first flower”) and will be in bloom outdoors in February… but only in the mildest climates. Elsewhere, you’ll find it as a potted gift plant. In the language of flowers, the primrose symbolizes modesty, distinction and virtue.
The birth flower of the March is the daffodil or narcissus (Narcissus spp.). It’s an easily naturalized hardy bulb that grows readily in most gardens and is one of the first flowers of spring. It blooms in March in much of Europe and the southern United States, but later in colder climates. Even so, it is widely available as a cut flower in March.
The yellow trumpet daffodil symbolizes rebirth and new beginnings as well as unrequited love. The white narcissus, on the other hand, symbolizes, as you probably guessed, egotism!
Opinions are almost equally divided as to the birth flower of April. Some claim the the sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) and others the oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare).
The sweet pea produces flowers in a wide range of colors. Originally the sweet pea was, as its name suggests, very fragrant, but most modern cultivars are odorless. It’s an annual sown directly in the ground in spring (or fall) for a summer bloom, but it can also be forced for April bloom under greenhouse conditions and used as a cut flower.
The sweet pea symbolizes modesty and simplicity.
The oxeye daisy, on the other hand, is a perennial wildflower originally from Eurasia and now well established in meadows all over the temperate world. Who doesn’t remember that childhood game in which a girl (usually), with a beau in mind, picks off one ray flower at a time, alternately saying “He loves me” and “He loves me not”. The phrase whose turn comes up with the plucking of the last ray flower is supposed to give the answer.
The daisy symbolizes innocence and purity and is also the flower of fifth wedding anniversaries.
The lily of the valley is the birth flower of May. The white bells are the very symbol of spring in Europe. In France, bouquets of “muguets” (the French name for the plant) are sold everywhere on May 1st. It’s a very hardy ground cover… and also highly invasive. Beware, it’s a highly toxic plant and its bright red fruit could look like candy to children.
The lily-of-the-valley symbolizes humility, chastity and happiness.
In North America, where the lily-of-the-valley is rarely available as a cut flower, the florist industry has substituted the lily (Lilium spp.) as May’s birth flower. It symbolizes purity and majesty.
June is the month of the rose and, indeed, roses are generally at their best this month throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
Roses come in a wide range of colors and can be simple, semi-double or double, with small or large flowers, scented or odorless. The plant is a shrub or climbing shrub of variable hardiness. Most garden roses need winter protection in hardiness zones 6 and below, but there are also hardy roses that thrive as far north as zone 3 with no need for protection at all
The rose symbolizes love and appreciation and is also the flower of 15th wedding anniversaries, but each rose color has its own symbolism: red represents love and respect; yellow used to mean jealousy and infidelity, but today, friendship; white is innocence, reverence and humility; pink, grace, appreciation and gratitude and black, hate or death.
The birth flower of July is the delphinium or larkspur. Both terms can refer to either the perennial delphinium (Delphinium spp.) or the annual delphinium (Consolida spp.).The trend these days however seems to be to call the perennial plant a delphinium and the annual one a larkspur. Both produce tall spikes of usually purple, blue, white, pink or red flowers. And both are poisonous.
The perennial delphinium is usually sold as a plant, although it can be readily grown from seed. It is hardy to zone 3, but is short-lived in hot-summer climates. The heavy flower stalks almost always need staking.
The annual larkspur is a smaller plant. It is only offered by seed and should be sown outdoors where it is to bloom, either in the fall or very early in the spring.
In the language of flowers, the delphinium/larkspur stands for levity and lightness.
The month of August offers two birth flowers: the poppy and the gladiolus.
There are many species of poppy, most of them in the genus Papaver, and they can be annuals, biennials or perennials. Depending on the species, they can bloom in spring or summer.
Their cup-shaped flowers have a satiny, wrinkled texture and are available in a good range of colors. The capsule that remains after flowering is in the shape of a salt shaker and is often used in dried flower arrangements.
The poppy has the reputation of inducing sleep (indeed, one species is called Papaver somniferum) and thus it symbolizes eternal sleep and oblivion, but also imagination.
As for the gladiolus (Gladiolus), the preferred choice of the florist industry, it is cultivated in most climates as a summer flowering plant that has to be overwintered indoors. In mild climates, usually zone 8 and warmer, it can however remain in the ground all year.
Each bulb (in fact, a corm) produces seven to nine narrow pointed leaves and a spike densely covered with rather tubular flowers in a wide range of colors. It’s an excellent cut flower and the floral symbol of 40th wedding anniversaries.
The gladiolus symbolizes strength of character, sincerity and generosity. The number of flowers open on the stalk at the time a bouquet is offered secretly indicates the hour of a gallant rendezvous.
If you were born in September, your birth flower is the aster (Aster and several other genera). Indeed, it generally blooms in the fall, between September and November. The aster is a perennial with upright stems and narrow leaves, bearing many small daisy-shaped flowers in a wide range of colors.
The aster symbolizes love, daintiness and delicacy.
October’s birth flower is the calendula or pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) or, perhaps due to a confusion in their names, the common marigold (Tagetes). Both produce orange or yellow daisylike flowers and are fast-growing annuals, easy to sow either indoors or out. The calendula is also called poor man’s saffron, as its golden petals can be used to flavor and color meals.
In the language of flowers, both the calendula and the marigold symbolize grief, sorrow and despair.
The birth flower of November is the chrysanthemum or mum (Chrysanthemum x morifolium). It produces abundant daisylike flowers or pompons in a wide range of colors. It naturally blooms in the fall. The chrysanthemum can be grown as a perennial, but is of doubtful hardiness in colder regions.
In France and Belgium, it is the flower of la Fête des morts (November 2, the day after All Saints’ Day, November 1st). On that day, pots of chrysanthemums are placed on graves in memory of the dead. That’s why the French see the chrysanthemum as the flower of death, certainly not a plant you’d want to offer as a hostess gift!
In most other countries, on the other hand, there is no morbid connotation to the chrysanthemum and it is indeed one of the most popular cut flowers and gift plants. And in the Orient, the chrysanthemum is said to bring happiness and laughter and is considered the flower of the sun.
In the language of flowers, the chrysanthemum symbolizes friendship, eternity and abundance.
The next time a friend or family member is having a birthday, consider offering them a plant or a bouquet representing their birth flower with a small card explaining its symbolism. I think they’ll be very pleased!