First discovered in Japan, the name hydrangea comes from the Greek “hydor,” meaning water, and “angos,” meaning jar or vessel. This roughly translates to “water barrel,” referring to the hydrangea’s need for plenty of water and its cup-shaped flower. With its wooden stems and lacy, star-shaped flowers packed closely together in a pompom, the hydrangea’s color ranges from white to blue to pink and purple, determined by the acidity level of the soil.
In Japan, the flower has a historical tradition behind it linked to apologies and gratitude. An emperor supposedly gave Hydrangeas to a maiden he loved as an apology for neglecting her when other business took up all his attention. Contemporary florists in Japan use it to represent genuine emotions and love because the pink blossoms in particular resemble a beating heat. The Victorians were not as fond of the Hydrangea and considered it a mostly negative plant. The flowers were sent to declare someone a boaster or braggart, or to chastise someone for their frigidity in turning down a claim of romantic love. It also means frigidity because of the Medieval belief that young women who grew or picked Hydrangeas would never find a husband. Modern Western florists often use the flowers in wedding bouquets and apology arrangements to tie in with their graceful and abundant meanings.
There remains some debate over the hydrangea’s symbolism – with some connecting it to vanity and boastfulness (perhaps reflecting its abundance of petals and lavish, rounded shape) and others suggesting that a bouquet of hydrangea expresses the giver’s gratefulness for the recipient’s understanding. Still others suggest it represents anything that’s sincerely heartfelt. Despite this variation in flower meaning, there appears to be an overwhelming consensus that this 4th wedding anniversary flower possesses enduring grace and beauty.
Common color meaning associations include:
- Pink – Linked to romance, heartfelt emotions, love, weddings, and marriage.
- Blue – Connected to frigidity, turning down a romantic proposal, asking for forgiveness, and expressing regret.
- White – Known as a symbol of purity, grace, abundance, and bragging or boasting.
- Purple – Used to indicate a desire for a deeper understanding of someone else or to symbolize abundance and wealth.