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Easter Flowers Around the World

Easter lilies in pots

Easter Lilies (Lilium longiflorum). Photo: walmart.com

By Larry Hodgson

In North America, the tradition of Easter flowers doesn’t go that far back. This is partly because many of the first settlers were of Puritan stock and not given to becoming too excited about gaudy blooms. And it was a hard scrabble life for many generations: people tended to concentrate more on keeping the family fed and clothed than blooms. And also, in the Northeast especially, there really wasn’t much in bloom you could use as a floral decoration that early in spring (North America is the coldest continent after Antarctica, with spring weather arriving many weeks later than in much of Europe). Even on Palm Sunday, which is celebrated with palm fronds elsewhere, North American colonists had to be make do with whatever vegetation they could find that was still green, such as fir and spruce branches.

It really wasn’t until after the First World War that the first discernable Easter flower came to the fore in North America. The white trumpet lily (Lilium longiflorum), from the Japanese island of Ryukyu, began to be grown in pots for Easter on the West Coast and was soon selling as “the Easter lily,” a name it has kept ever since. Now it’s so popular that more than 12 million are grown for Easter every year. And our society is less puritanical these days—and richer, too, better able to afford buying flowers—and has therefore opened up to other Easter flowers as well: spring bulbs, potted hydrangeas, etc. 

Elsewhere in the world, though, floral traditions associated with Easter are much older, often going back centuries. Indeed, most predate Christianity and even the death of Jesus, holdovers from long-forgotten pagan spring festivals. Few homes and churches elsewhere in the world are not filled with flowers each year at Easter time, as they have been for centuries. 

Here are some examples of Easter flowers throughout the world.

England

In England, the pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) (the name means Easter flower) has long been the staple Easter flower, but the pussy willow (Salix spp.) is even more popular. It has the advantage of blooming so early that even when Easter comes in March while pasqueflower are still dormant, the fuzzy white flowers of the pussy willow are always available.

France

Yellow daffodils
Yellow daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus). Photo: Sapin88, Wikimedia Commons

The traditional Easter flower varies by region in France. In some regions, it is, as in England, the pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris); in others, the lawn daisy (Bellis perennis), which the French call pâquerette (little Easter flower). In general, though, and also in other European countries, the yellow daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus and others) is the prime floral symbol of Easter. It is closely associated with the resurrection because the flower seems to appear out of nowhere from a seemingly dead earth.

Ireland

White calla in bloom.
White calla (Zantedeschia aethiopica). Photo: Manfred Heyde, Wikimedia Commons

In Ireland, there is an Easter lily (lile na Cásca in Irish), but it’s not a real lily (Lilium) at all. Rather, it’s the white calla (Zantedeschia aethiopica). This tradition began after the Easter Rising of 1916 when around 400 people died and white calla flowers were given away at the funerals. Today, this false Easter lily is considered a symbol of peace.

Germany

Red tulip, Easter eggs and chocolates
Red tulip (Tulipa cv). Photo: 1zoom.me

The red tulip is the traditional symbol of Easter in Germany. Its intense color is said to represent the blood of Christ.

Greece and Italy

Purple iris
Purple iris (Iris × hollandica). Photo: 1zoom.me

In addition to the yellow daffodil, the iris is a popular Easter flower in these two countries, especially the purple Dutch iris (Iris × hollandica), as the color purple is associated with the passion of Christ.

Russia and Slavic Countries

Pussy willows in front of Orthodox church.
Pussy willows (Salix spp.). Photo: korrespondent.net

As in England, the pussy willow, the first spring flower in most of Russia, is the traditional Easter flower. Besides, it is the traditional substitute for palm branches on Palm Sunday in Orthodox churches, given the general absence of palms trees in Russia and its neighboring lands. Orthodox priests bless pussy willow branches on Palm Sunday, then people take them home and display them in their homes until the following year. They are then ritually burned on Shrove Tuesday (Масленица) providing the ashes for Ash Wednesday (Пепельная Среда), the first day of Lent.

Southern Hemisphere

Chile and Argentina

Red poinsettia
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). Photo: Scott Bauer, Wikimedia Commons

A surprise awaits tourists from the northern hemisphere visiting these countries at Easter, because the traditional Easter flower is … the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), which is our Christmas flower! But of course, the seasons are reversed in the south of this continent and the poinsettia thus blooms during their fall, when Easter occurs. In fact, they call the poinsettia flor de pascua (Easter flower). Its red color doesn’t upset anyone, but is rather considered a symbol of the blood of Christ!

Central and South America

Passion flower
The passionflower symbolizes the passion of Christ. Photo: Dvortygirl, Wikimedia Commons

If you thought the passionflower (Passiflora spp.) had any relation with romantic passion, you’d wrong. The name signifies the passion of Christ. From the 16th century on, Spanish missionaries used it as a tool to teach the story of Christ to the natives in the following way: the flower’s ten tepals represented the ten faithful apostles (this excludes Peter, the denier, and Judas Iscariot, the traitor), the three stigmata recall the three nails, the five anthers are the five sacred wounds, the tendrils symbolize the whips of flagellation and the circle of filaments in the center of the flower allude to the crown of thorns. Quite the Easter flower, in a very lugubrious way, don’t you think?

Brazil

In some areas of Brasil, a large shrub with purple flowers, Tibouchina mutabilis, is the symbol of Easter. And the Northerners’ Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera spp.), which actually comes from Brazil, blooms in the opposite season there and is thus called Easter cactus (cactus de Páscoa) in that country.

Australia

Pale purple aster flowers.
Easter daisy (Symphotrichum novae-angliae ‘Otis’). Photo: tesselaar.net.au

Since Australia is also in the Southern Hemisphere, Easter takes place in the fall and therefore it’s mostly fall flowers that are associated with Easter celebrations. And the New England aster or Michaelmas daisy (Symphotrichum novae-angliae), although native to North America, is the most popular Easter flower. Logically, it’s called Easter daisy in Australia. And the Easter lily (Lilium longifolium), which North Americans have to force in special greenhouses to get to bloom at Easter, flowers quite naturally at Easter down under.


No matter where you live, therefore, you can celebrate Easter with flowers. Go to your local garden center and discover the profusion of beautiful pots of bloom that await you!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

3 comments on “Easter Flowers Around the World

  1. Wonderful, Thanks!

  2. Yes, most of these make sense, and are popular here in conjunction with Easter lily. I am still none too keen on poinsettia, even as a Christmas flower. (I will eventually grow it in my own garden until I learn to like it again.) Pussy willow never became overly popular here like it is in the East though. Isn’t it popular there with any cut flower, whenever it becomes available? I see only a bit of it here with pre-made bouquets, sometimes late into spring. It must be refrigerated.

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