Heather Flower Meaning and Symbolism

The heather flower’s meaning comes from its genus name, Calluna, which stems from the Greek word kalluno, and means to cleanse or adorn. This is appropriate, as heather plants were once used for making brooms.

Heather flowers commonly grow in northern and western Europe, Turkey, and Morocco, and have been naturalized in parts of North America. It is especially popular in Scotland. The name heather is believed to come from the Scottish word haeddre, which was used to describe a heathland, or a shrubland habitat.

According to a Scottish legend, Malvina, daughter of a Celtic bard, was engaged to a warrior named Oscar. Oscar was killed in battle, and the messenger that delivered the news gave her heather as a token of Oscar’s love. As her tears fell on the heather, it turned white. Though she was sad, she wished happiness on others and hoped that anyone who found white heather would have good luck.

Heather Flower Meanings

Heather flowers commonly mean good luck, admiration, and protection.

  • Queen Victoria popularized the the meaning of heather as good luck in England because of her appreciation for Scottish lore and traditions. Victorians may also have associated heather with good luck because of its scarcity at the time, much like we consider four-leaf clovers good luck.
  • In the sixteenth century, Clan Ranald, a Scottish clan, believed that they won a battle because they wore white heather in their bonnets, which gave them both luck and protection.
  • In Scotland, it is common to include a sprig of white heather in a bride’s bouquet for good luck.

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Heather Flower Symbolism and Colors

Heather flowers typically grow in shades of white, purple, and pink.

  • White heather symbolizes protection, good luck, or wishes coming true.
  • Purple heather symbolizes admiration and solitude.

Heather Flower Cultural Significance

Robert Louis Stevenson, a Scottish writer and poet, write a poem entitled Heather Ale. This poem tells the tale of vikings and the Pictish King. According to the poem, the vikings defeated the Picts army and cornered the king and his son on a cliff in an attempt to gain the recipe for Heather Ale. However, the king would rather be thrown off the cliff than give up the recipe. He loses the battle, but takes the secret recipe to his grave.

This poem depicts not only the importance of heather to Scotland, but how it grew beautifully and bountifully in many areas.

There stood the son and father,

And they looked high and low;

The heather was red around them,

The sea rumbled below.

Heather Flower Facts

  • Heathers are evergreen shrubs.
  • They typically bloom from July to September.
  • Each small heather flower can have up to thirty seeds.
  • Heathers do best in full sun with acidic, well-draining soil.

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Heather Flower Uses

There are records dating back to the seventh century of heather’s healing properties. In the sixteenth century, German doctor Paulus Aegineta noted that the flowers, leaves, and stems healed various types of sores, both internal and external. Nicolas Alexandre, a Benedictine monk, also noted that heather tea could dissolve kidney stones. Today, heather is still used by some to aid in urinary tract and digestive conditions, among other things.

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Resources

www.missouribotanicalgarden.org  |  www.walkhighlands.co.uk  |  www.treesforlife.org.uk

www.poetryloverspage.com  |  www.scottish-at-heart.com  |  www.webmd.com  |  Scottish Pride by Heather Duncan

 

Image Source

Middle image, top right CC Image courtesy of retemirabile on Flickr