Sometime ago, we decided that other than flags and anthems, countries should also have their national floral emblems. And although they might be popular and known around the world, every country has its unique flora that deserves admiration. Here are just a few of these international representatives and their stories.
The king protea became South Africa’s national flower in 1976. Known for its wide range of shapes and colors, it was named after Proteus (the son of Poseidon) and means “shape-shifter.” This gorgeous and hardy flower is the largest of its species and has been known to survive and thrive even after wildfires. It’s commonly featured in the country’s passports and birth certificates, as well as in the name of their cricket team—the Proteas.
Brazil and Colombia—Cattelya orchid
Found in rainforests 1,500–2,000 meters above sea level, Cattelya trianae is often referred to as the queen of orchids, and rightfully so. Unlike its Asian counterpart, this South American flower is much larger, with frilled petals, soft curves, and a mesmerizing show of color—it’s no wonder both countries made it their own. It got its name from William Cattley, a British horticulturist who discovered the genus in Brazil, and Jose Jeronimo Triana, a Colombian botanist who described this specific species.
The odd one out, Canada decided the maple tree is so awesome, its leaf should be on their flag too. Maples do have flowers, but in most varieties, they’re pretty small and hard to spot. The stunning red foliage, on the other hand, is something to admire. This tree has always been valued for its sweet sap by the natives, and it quickly became a favorite of early settlers. Other than being the emblem of the country’s hockey team, it was also used on the uniform of Canadian forces during WWI.
Native to Portugal, lavender has become the country’s symbol due to one of the largest lavender fields in the Alentejo region, which visitors are likely to spot between May and August. This flower was, and still is, commonly used in oils, perfumes, and balms. Since its fragrant sprigs have calming and antibacterial effects, locals, as well as Ancient Romans, added lavender to their baths, which is how it got its genus name from the word “lavandula” meaning “to wash.”
In 1986, president Ronald Reagan signed a resolution proclaiming the rose as the country’s floral emblem. His reasoning for this was that this flower has always been a popular choice among American citizens not just as a symbol of love, beauty, and eternity but also for celebrations, parades, as well as shrines and altars. The White House itself is popular for its rose garden, and even George Washington bred varieties of roses, one of which he named after his mother, and it’s still grown today.
The fleur-de-lis has been embedded in France’s history for centuries: present on emblems, architecture, the royal coat of arms, and as a flower of the royal family. In church, it symbolized the holy trinity, but in the modern sense, it’s a symbol of purity, brightness, and freedom. Louis VII officialized the flower as a royal decoration by wearing a robe with golden irises, but the flower was also used by the Ancient Sumerians, seen on Egyptian walls, Iranians textiles, Greek, Roman, and even Japanese coins.
With over 20,000 species as vibrant and colorful as its country of origin, the Mexican dahlia was declared a national flower in 1963. Called acocoxochitl by the locals, this herbaceous perennial wasn’t just an ornamental but also a part of their cuisine. The tubers of certain species can be eaten raw or cooked just like potatoes, and the cooking water served as a tonic which helps reduce glucose levels.
This unusual white-silvery flower looks like a felt toy and grows high in the rocky Alps. Edelweiss means “alpine lion’s tooth” not just because of the resemblance but also for its hardiness to the harsh alpine climate. An olden tale told of a suitor that climbed the high mountains to bring the edelweiss to his sweetheart, making it a symbol of love. It became a national symbol in the 19th century and continues to be a local celebrity ever since. Currently, the flower serves as the Swiss tourism logo, but you can also find it on local postcards, cosmetics, chocolate bars, and clothing.
Commonly known as the Hong Kong orchid tree, this is a locally grown hybrid with a confusing origin of multiple cultivars. Despite being barren and propagated only by grafting, the plant is surprisingly resistant to diseases and pests. Its intricate purple-pink flowers appear on the country’s coat of arms, national flag, coins, and even as a gilded statue. The adorable heart-shaped leaves, referred to as the clever leaves, are sometimes used by students as bookmarks to help them with their studies.
Plants have always been and continue to be celebrated in every country––and this was just a few of them. So, next time you go traveling or reading about other nations, check out their floral citizens and what role they played in the local scenery and culture.