Flower Tattoos and Their Meaning

Flower tattoos are increasingly common these days. In the West, flower tattoos were traditionally thought of as being for women. Odds are, if you think about flower tattoos there’s a good chance you are imaging them on women. Over time, as appreciation for the meaning of flower tattoos has grown, these tattoos are increasingly common on men as well. Of all of the native tattoo traditions, Japanese flower tattoos are among the oldest and most prominent. Like many things in Japanese culture, flower tattoos are imbued with meaning which is a major contributor to their resurgence in popularity.

Flower Tattoos: Defining Their Meaning

wildflower tattooBefore we dive into revealing the traditional meaning behind many of these tattoos, we should note that the meaning can vary from culture to culture. A flower tattoo’s meaning in Japanese tattoo art may be quite different from its meaning in Mexican tattoo art. We’re going to try to cover all of our bases, but we highly recommend doing your own research to make sure that you get the tattoo you want, the meaning you want, and are ok with any possible additional connotations a certain flower may have.

The Most Popular Flower Tattoos:

There are almost as many meanings and symbols represented by flowers as there are flowers in the world. For you non-horticulturists out there, that’s a whole hell of a lot. We couldn’t possibly list all of these meanings here. What we can do instead is give you the meanings behind a number of the most commonly used flowers in tattoo art. We hope this will give you some insight into creating your own tattoo ideas or designs and that you’ll be able to make an informed decision about which flowers you decide to have tattooed on you and their meaning.

Lotus Tattoos:

lotus flower tattooThese are among the most popular flower tattoos not just for what they symbolize, but for the cultures to which they are tied. The lotus represents knowledge, understanding, enlightenment, and life. The meaning of lotus tattoos goes a lot deeper. So much deeper, in fact, that we had to give it a dedicated page. If you want to learn more about the history and meaning of lotus tattoos, read up on our lotus tattoos page.

Cherry Blossom Tattoos:

The cherry blossom tattoo is common in Japanese style tattooing. Often depicted as falling petals being carried by the wind, the cherry blossom reflects a vary unique trait of Japanese culture. They call it “Mono no aware” – the pathos of things, or more literally, an empathy towards things. Another way to put it would be to say “a sensitivity toward ephemera”. What does that mean? The cherry blossoms are quite beautiful and delicate, but are not in bloom long. The blossoms are blown from the trees with the slightest wind. This means that their beauty fades rapidly. The Japanese people see this as a metaphor for life which echoes their own mortality.

cherry blossom flower tattoosFor a better understanding of the significance of the cherry blossom tattoo, read the story of Jirohei and the Samurai. In tattoo art, the cherry blossom represents the fleetingness of life and of beauty, as well as representing mortality, life, and beauty themselves. The blossoms are often depicted as being carried away by wind or water. It is also common to see the blossoms represented as whole, or just the petals. Of all the flower tattoos we’ll discuss, the cherry blossom is the smallest.

Chrysanthemum or Mum Tattoos:

chrysanthemum tattoo

This is another particularly popular flower tattoo that is most commonly associated with Japanese art. In Japan, the chrysanthemum is associated with royalty–namely the emperor, who sits on what the Japanese have titled the Chrysanthemum Throne. It represents perfection and, in some interpretations, deity.

The chrysanthemum is also symbolic of happiness or joy, as well as longevity. In China, the Chrysanthemum is associated with Taoism and represents simplicity and perfection.

Due to the fact that it blooms in autumn, there is also a symbolic representation of transitioning from life to death, or being between life and death. In Chinese culture, the chrysanthemum is given in congratulations, good will, or wishes for long life.

Rose Tattoos:

Rose tattoo

The rose tattoo is another popular flower tattoo. While it is less common in Eastern tattoo art, the rose tattoo is a staple of traditional American tattoo culture. The rose tattoo is generally regarded as meaning love, or beauty, due to these same qualities being associated with the flower itself. But the rose tattoo has much deeper meaning and a very long history in tattoo art.

The rose tattoo is also believed to mean balance, symbolize an undying love, hope, and new beginnings. Adding the stem with thorns can provide additional, contrasting meaning  such as defense, loss, and thoughtlessness.

Peony Tattoos:

peony tattooThe peony flower tattoo is another common staple of the Japanese style of tattooing. In Japan, they are referred to as the “King of Flowers”. This flower tattoo symbolizes elegance and wealth. Though often colored red in tattoo art, the peony tattoo can be a wide range of colors.

Orchid Tattoos:

orchids flower tattooThe orchid holds a broad range of meaning in numerous cultures. To the Japanese, the orchid was said to represent bravery to warriors. It’s associated with power and strength in ancient Aztec culture.In China, the meaning of the orchid flower is tied to prosperity, fertility, and refinement.

The best part of orchid flower tattoos is the sheer number of options. There are over 25,000 kinds of orchid flowers, which means that your odds of finding one that suits your purpose may be easier (or harder) than you might expect. Keep in mind that the meaning of an orchid flower tattoo can be tied to the type of orchid you choose and the part of the world in which that orchid naturally grows because the meaning is usually defined by the culture that lives closest to the flower.

Hibiscus Flower Tattoos:

hibiscus tattooThe hibiscus flower is another popular flower tattoo. In Japanese culture the hibiscus flower has one of the simplest meanings of all flowers in Japan. It holds just a singular meaning: gentle. In Hawaiian culture the hibiscus flower symbolizes royalty, power, and respect. Often worn by the old kings and queens of the Hawaiian islands, the hibiscus became associated with the ruling class. The hibiscus flower tattoo can simultaneously hold all of these meanings, but interpretations can be influenced by the context of the tattoo. For example, a hibiscus appearing in a Japanese sleeve would be more likely to be considered to mean “gentle”, rather than power or respect. A hibiscus tattoo that stands alone may have a less restrictive interpretation of its meaning.

Lily Tattoos:

The lily is a popular flower worldwide and appears in many cultures for many purposes. For this reason, it has some of the most varied meaning of any flower tattoo.

lily tattoo

The meaning of lilies is traced back to ancient Greece and the Madonna lily, a white lily native to the area. They believed it sprang from the milk of Hera, Queen of the Gods. For that reason the lily in Greece was understood to represent the Divine Feminine. It also commonly means virtue, perfection, and purity. Compassion, understanding, and mourning are also associated with lily flowers.

A lily flower tattoo can be completely open to interpretation, or, if you choose, other design elements can help assign the flower to a culture to direct the meaning of the lily flower tattoo to something you specific wish to symbolize.

Poppy Flower Tattoos:

Poppies are another flower that grow in all different parts of the world. Despite this, and unlike other flowers with broad geographic origins, the poppy flower does not have a widely varied meaning. Its meaning is surprisingly limited.

poppy flowerIn the Greek and Roman tradition, the poppy flower is associated with death in the form of eternal sleep. Sleep is a universal meaning for the poppy flower, but it can also mean peace. Both meanings make subtle reference to death. Another, more modern meaning assigned to the poppy is remembrance for those who have died in war. This meaning comes from the poem by John McCrae “In Flanders’ Fields”, a WWII era poem about the war and those lost to it.

Dogwood Flower Tattoo:

The meaning of the dogwood flower varies from culture to culture. A commonly accepted meaning of dogwood flower tattoos is “love undiminished by adversity”, meaning the wearer’s love can withstand anything. Dogwood flowers are often confused with cherry blossoms in tattoo art due to their striking resemblance to one another.

dogwood flower tattoo charles berger

By Charles Berger @ Heroes & Ghosts | Richmond, VA

Another traditionally accepted meaning of the dogwood flower is pity or empathy. This stems from Christian folklore. The story goes that the dogwood once was a large tree like an oak tree and as such, it was the tree chosen to make the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The dogwood didn’t want this to happen and felt great pity for Jesus. As a reward, God made the dogwood grow small so that it couldn’t be used for such a cruel act ever again.

The dogwood can also symbolize rebirth, or rejuvenation, as it blooms in the spring.

Other Flower Meaning Resources:

The Crimson Poppy: this site addresses the meaning of colors, numbers, and individual flower. These are very short descriptions.

AboutFlowers.com: the flower meaning is listed next to each flower. One word only; though some flower names are hyperlinked to pages where more information about the flower may be available.