Does a Hydrangea Flower Have Special Meaning?

These flowering shrubs have been beloved by gardeners throughout history. Learn if hydrangeas have meaning and the message each color sends.

Significance of Hydrangeas Throughout History

hydrangea meaningCourtesy Janice Stevenson
Hydrangeas are popular flowering shrubs that hold special meaning for some gardeners.

Around the world, differing hydrangea colors carry symbolic meaning, ranging from arrogance to earnest apology. But these flowers also have a fascinating history.

Given their prominence in our gardens and weddings, you might assume hydrangeas are a North American plant and this is partially true. In fact, fossilized remains of hydrangeas date back to prehistoric times, and oakleaf and smooth hydrangeas are native to North America. However, other types of hydrangeas originated in Japan. There, hydrangeas received mentions in poems all the way back to 710 A.D.

From Japan, the hydrangea made its way through much of Asia and the world. Hydrangeas eventually wound through the West thanks to the East India Company, whose traveling merchants transported several species of the Japanese flowers back to their home countries with them.

Since they have such an extensive history in Japan, it’s no surprise hydrangeas are held in high regard there. They’re a staple of many stunning Japanese gardens during the rainy season in June and July.

Learn everything you need to know about hydrangea care.

Pink Hydrangea Meaning

oakleaf gatsby pinkCourtesy of Proven Winners - Provenwinners.com
Gatsby Pink oakleaf hydrangea

Like roses on Valentine’s Day or a heart-fluttering blush, pink hydrangeas are all about love. As a result, they’re commonly associated with romance and deep emotion.

Grow an Endless Summer hydrangea for weeks of blooms.

Blue Hydrangea Meaning

beautiful flowersCourtesy Gregory Vinyard

If you need a flower to say you’re sorry, your best choice is a blue hydrangea. According to legend, a Japanese emperor once apologized for neglecting a woman he loved by gifting blue hydrangeas to her family. As such, the blue flowers have become associated with remorse, affection and gratitude.

Here’s when to prune your hydrangeas for the biggest, showiest blooms.

White Hydrangea Meaning

Incrediball smooth hydrangea has giant white ball-like bloom clusters.Proven Winners - provenwinners.com
Incrediball smooth hydrangea 

In sharp contrast, white hydrangeas aren’t quite so beloved. While white typically connotes purity or innocence, white hydrangeas can also have unpleasant associations like arrogance, boastfulness, and insincerity. Why? Look to history for a good answer. In Victorian Europe, suitors were known to give white hydrangeas to women they’d fallen out of love with. As one superstition went, women who grew white hydrangeas were unlikely to marry.

If your hydrangea isn’t blooming, here’s what you should do.

Purple Hydrangea Meaning

Hydrangea Macrophylla Lets Dance Big Band Dsc00096Proven Winners Color Choice Shrubs
Let’s Dance Big Band hydrangea

Think of purple hydrangeas as blue hydrangeas’ happy-go-lucky cousin. They have all the kindheartedness without the “I’m sorry” connotation, so they’re perfect for showing a friend or family member how much they mean to you. As with many purple flowers, they also carry associations with royalty and leadership.

Learn how to change the color of your hydrangeas.

Hydrangea Tattoo Meaning

If you’re thinking of getting a flower tattoo as an eternal symbol of your love for these popular garden blooms, a hydrangea tattoo is an excellent choice. While you might not want to go with a white hydrangea tattoo if you’re looking for lasting romance, other colors are associated with gratitude and thankfulness.

Next, discover the best hydrangea bush for every yard and growing condition.

Emily Hannemann
Emily Hannemann is an associate editor for Birds & Blooms Digital. Throughout her years with the publication, she has written multiple articles for print as well as digital, all covering birding and gardening. In her role as associate editor, she is responsible for creating and editing articles on the subject of birding and gardening, as well as putting together Birds & Bloom's daily digital newsletter. After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a master's degree in magazine journalism and undergraduate degrees in journalism and English, she has more than eight years of experience in the magazine, newspaper, and book industries.