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The Symbolic Meaning of Heather

Posted by Suzie Canale on Mon, Oct 10, 2016

If you ever go to Scotland

on a summer day,

you'll fall in love with Heather

Heather's blooming along the


Raising their tiny heads to

address the day

you won't believe their beauty

They will take your breath away.

This is a magical time, Heather's

growing wild and free

looking at a field of flowers

Captivated, by their beauty.

By Heather Burns



photo credit: David Kesler, Floral Design Institute, Inc., in Portland, OR via Flower Factor

Heather is an old fashioned flower that has bell-like heads, which grow in shrubs along rocky hillsides and meadows.  Due to their preferred growing conditions, this species requires very little attention and will flourish in areas that are rural and untouched by human development.  The heather species was first found in parts of Asia as well as Europe, particularly within Scotland borders.  Originally, the plant was called “hather” which translates into “open land covered with flowers” but was eventually changed to “heather” after the term “heath”.  The petals are colored in white, pink or mauve, each holding a different meaning depending on the hue.  In general, heather stands for independence, solidarity, protection and sorrow although different cultures have adapted their own symbolism through traditions and folklore.

One story describes the flower as being traced back to the early battles that took place on Scottish soil.  White blooms of heather were worn by soldiers on their chests to mean “protection” against the enemy and given by maidens to wish them “good luck”.  It was important that the flowers were white because if they were gifted in darker shades, the opposite was true.  Pink or mauve varieties were seen as “blood-shed” and “death” of fallen soldiers and would sometimes be planted near the corpses after warring had ended.  It is popular belief that not only will white heather never grow near the deceased but it is also the home to nymphs and other magical creatures.  If you’re ever hunting for fairies, stay away from the darker shades because they symbolize the bearer of bad news.

While it is true that heather surrounds several different notions of dying and feeling of being by oneself, there are other stories that celebrate the heather’s importance with immortality.   Most famously is the story of a princess who fell in love with a soldier who she was promised to marry.  Though unfortunately he was killed before they could be wedded, the princess planted only white sprigs of the plant at his grave and swore that no unhappiness shall ever come to another person who beholds the shade of white heather.  

Tags: Flowers as Symbols, Language of Flowers, Flower Meanings, Heather

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