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The Symbolic Meaning of the Butter Cup

Posted by Suzie Canale on Fri, Aug 18, 2017

One of the first flowers we are ever introduced to as children is the “buttercup”, a bloom which most of us found popping up in our backyards in pretty patches of yellow.  Perhaps you picked a bouquet for your mother or maybe rubbed the petals against your chin to see it glow?  However you played with these beloved, tiny blossoms, I’m confident that many of you have a summer memory or two that includes the buttercup in childhood play.  

butter cup flower.jpg

photo credit via wikipedia.org

Belonging to the “ranunculus” family, this plant often has yellow, shiny petals and a green center, which is easily cultivated in a multitude of areas such as meadows, glens and grassy areas.   Often, it is referred to as a “weed” only because it needs little to survive and can be counted on to arrive each and every spring depending on weather conditions. Due to it’s congenial growing temperament, it’s no wonder why the buttercup becomes a sought after ground cover for many landscaping designs.


Because the buttercup is so closely intertwined with children, the symbolic meaning is understandably synonymous with this theme.  Although there are variations, quite often the flower is said to represent joy, youth, purity, happiness and friendship.  It can also mean playfulness, cheerfulness and sunshine, which reflect the bloom’s happy appearance.  If you wake up from having a dream about buttercups, this can mean that you are missing some piece of your childhood and perhaps it’s time to visit the house where you grew up or call and old friend.  Another meaning can be that you are making decisions in life, which are moving you at an uncomfortably fast pace.  In this case, it’s wise to slow down and reevaluate the direction you’ve chosen.


So where do these references originate from?  Through myth and history, the buttercup has earned its reputation from a miser and a cow, each offering their unique take on why the flower remains symbolically important.  In the first example, it is said that a miser was punished for not sharing his gold coins with fairies one day while crossing a meadow.  This angered the fairies, making them poke a hole in the bag thus dropping the money to the ground.  Fearing the miser would notice, they turned the gold into yellow flowers, which hid them from his view.  The second story originates from a farmer believing that his prized cow gave the sweetest milk because she only grazed on yellow buttercups instead of grass like the others.  The blooms nutrients were said to have made her milk delicious, surpassing any heifer in town.  You may want to take this legend with a grain of salt because cows or humans should never ingest the buttercup.  The high toxicity of the plant can cause sickness and in some cases even death.  

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

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