There is a birth flower for every month. Learn more about your birth flower in this fascinating article!
By Larry Hodgson
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. That meant you could compose a romantic message by assembling a bouquet of flowers. And adding a birth flower to the mix could be very revealing!
So, what is your birth flower? Let’s take a look:
The lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) is the birth flower of May. The white bells are the very symbol of spring in its native Europe. In France, bouquets of “muguets” (the French name for the plant) are sold everywhere on May 1st.
The lily-of-the-valley symbolizes humility, chastity and happiness.
So far, so good. Before considering planting it, though, you need to know more.
For one, lily of the valley a very hardy ground cover. Great! But also very invasive. Also, it’s a highly toxic plant. And its bright red fruit could look like candy to a child.
The North American florist industry substituted another “lily” for the lily of the valley. They now use the true lily, Lilium spp., as the May birth flower. Thanks to greenhouse growing, it’s available all year, not just for a short period like the lily of the valley. And certainly throughout May.
Note that, although the two plants are called lilies, they aren’t related. The lily is in the lily family and the lily of the valley, in the asparagus family. And the lily isn’t toxic. Well, not to people nor dogs. It is slightly toxic to cats and some birds, though.
The lily symbolizes purity and majesty.
June is the month of the rose (Rosa spp.). And indeed, roses are generally at their peak this month throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
Roses come in a wide range of colors. They can also be simple, semi-double or double, with small or large flowers, have a wonderful scent or be odorless. The plant itself is a shrub or climbing shrub. Many bloom only once a year. Others, though, rebloom, sometimes almost nonstop.
Hardiness can be an issue with roses. Most garden roses—hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas, etc.—need winter protection in hardiness zones 6 and colder. However, there now 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. It’s also the 15th wedding anniversary flower. However, each rose color also has its own special 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;
- black, hate or death.
The birth flower of July is the delphinium, also called 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 calling 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. To both people and pets.
The perennial delphinium is usually sold in a pot, blooming size. Still, you can also grow it from seed, although it will bloom only the second year. It’s 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 available by seed. Sow 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 gives you 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 the spring or the 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 saltshaker. Cut flower specialists use it 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, home gardens know it as a summer bulb. You plant it out for the summer and bring the dormant bulb back indoors for the winter. In mild climates, though, zones 8 to 10, it can stay outdoors all year. For the cut flower trade, given the wide variety of climates and the possibility of greenhouse growing, gladioli are available 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 if your 40th wedding anniversary is coming, it’s your official flower!
The gladiolus symbolizes strength of character, sincerity and generosity. The number of flowers open on the stalk can secretly indicate the hour of a romantic rendezvous.
If you were born in September, your birth flower is the aster (Aster and several other genera: Doellingeria, Eurybia, Symphyotrichum, etc.). Indeed, it generally blooms in the fall, between September and November. The aster is a perennial with upright stems and often narrow leaves, bearing many small daisy-shaped flowers in a wide range of colors.
In the language of flowers, the aster symbolizes love, daintiness and delicacy.
October’s birth flower is the calendula or pot marigold (Calendula officinalis). Perhaps due to a confusion in their names, some people consider the common marigold (Tagetes) to be the October birth flower instead. Both produce orange or yellow daisylike flowers and are fast-growing annuals. They’re 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 × morifolium). It produces abundant daisylike flowers or pompons in a wide range of colors. It naturally blooms in the fall. The chrysanthemum is essentially a perennial, but is of doubtful hardiness in colder regions. Look for “hardy mums” if you garden in hardiness zones 3 to 6.
In France and Belgium, the chrysanthemum 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. It’s certainly not a plant you’d want to offer as a hostess gift in France!
In most other countries, on the other hand, people seen nothing morbid about the chrysanthemum. Indeed, it’s one of the world’s most popular cut flowers and gift plants for all occasions. And in the Orient, the chrysanthemum is said to bring happiness and laughter. Many Asian cultures consider the chrysanthemum to be the flower of the sun.
In the language of flowers, the chrysanthemum symbolizes friendship, eternity and abundance.
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 by 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’s one of the best-known Christmas symbols.
In the language of flowers, the holly is the symbol of domestic happiness.
Paper White Narcissus
The Paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus) was adopted later, during Victorian times. It’s easy to grow in a pot for bloom in December. The bulbs are widely available in garden centers all fall. Just pot them up in November, water them and keep them cool and moist. This speedy narcissus often starts to bloom in just 5 weeks! The Paperwhite narcissus makes a good although short-lived houseplant. However, it isn’t 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 of the first December choices. Instead, it substituted 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. If ever the plant dries out, the leaves and the colored bracts that make it so attractive soon drop off. And they 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, but never fear. The florist industry invented their own meanings for the poinsettia: good cheer and success!
The carnation or florist’s carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) is the flower of January. It usually bears a strongly and attractively scented double flower. This plant can be an annual or a perennial, depending on the variety you choose. It doesn’t bloom naturally outdoors in January, of course, but thrives in greenhouses. As a result, florists can offer it 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). It blooms as early as January in milder parts of Europe. It is synonymous with hope.
If February is your birth month, your birth flower is the sweet violet (Viola odorata). It’s small and discreet, but famous for its intense fragrance.
The sweet violet is a perennial of European fields and woodlands. Also, it escaped culture and grows wild in parts of North America. Both leaves and flowers are edible and you can use the blooms make candied violets. The perfume industry harvests massive quantities of sweet violet leaves for perfume making.
In the language of flowers, the violet, whose flower always bends a bit down, is the symbol of modesty. If you add it to a bouquet, it means you’ll always be true.
Nosegays of violets (a small hand-held bouquet) were all the rage in the late 19th century. However, they have pretty much gone out of style today. As a result, greenhouses no longer produce massive quantities of violets as cut flowers as they once did. So, the florist industry has again stepped in with a substitute February birth flower. Indeed, one that makes a much showier bouquet: the Dutch iris (Iris x hollandica). Greenhouses can easily force it for bloom in almost any month, including February.
The iris symbolizes faith, courage and wisdom.
In the United States, you often see primroses (Primula spp.) as the birth flower of February. They’re one of the earliest perennials to flower (primrose means “first flower”). So, they will be in bloom outdoors in February . . . but only in the very mildest climates. Elsewhere, if you find it at that season, it will mostly be as a potted gift plant.
In the language of flowers, the primrose symbolizes modesty, distinction and virtue.
The birth flower of March is the daffodil, also called jonquil or narcissus (Narcissus spp.). It’s an easily naturalized hardy bulb that grows readily in most gardens. And the daffodil is one of the first flowers of spring. It blooms in March in much of Europe and the southern United States. Later in colder climates. Even so, it is widely available as a cut flower or potted gift plant in March . . . just about anywhere!
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! After all, wasn’t Narcissus the Greek youth who fell in love with his own reflection?
Opinions are almost equally divided as to the birth flower of April. Some claim 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, sweetly fragrant. However, most modern cultivars are odorless. It’s an annual you sow directly in the ground in spring (or fall) for spring and summer bloom. Formerly, greenhouse operations forced it on a large scale for cut flower use in April. That’s not so common anymore.
The sweet pea symbolizes modesty and simplicity.
The oxeye daisy, on the other hand, is a perennial wildflower originally from Eurasia. It’s 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, alternatively saying “He loves me” and “He loves me not”. The phrase which comes up as she plucks off last ray flower is supposed to reveal the truth.
The daisy symbolizes innocence and purity and is also the 5th wedding anniversary flower.
The next time a friend or family member is having a birthday, why not consider offering them a plant or a bouquet of their birth flower. Or for a mother, prepare a bouquet with the birth flowers of all her children. You might want to accompany the gift with a small card explaining each flower’s symbolism. I think that would make them very happy!