Last updated on May 21st, 2023 at 11:39 pm
Phlox flowers are colorful, old-fashioned, and popular garden flowers. The phlox genus belongs to the family Polemoniaceae. All but one of the 67 phlox species are native to North America. Only one variety, Phlox sibirica, is found in Siberia. The phlox plants thrive better in northern climates.
The hardy wild phlox varieties grow in prairies, open woodland, and alpine tundra. The delicate phlox flowers have five-parted petals. The bright, fragrant phlox flowers form loose clusters upon erect stems. The stem can reach a height of 25 cm to 120 cm. There is a popular saying that one can find a phlox flower suitable to every location and season.
The name of this flower comes from the Greek word phlox, which means ‘flame.’ The genus was named in the eighteenth century by the Swedish botanist and father of modern terminology, Carl Linnaeus.
The shape of the phlox flower is often compared to that of a torch, also known under its common name, ‘flame flower.’ Other records indicate that Linnaeus chose this name for these flowers, inspired by their vivid and showy blossoms. Phlox is also related to a Greek word from phlegm, a cause of inflammations and sore throats.
Interestingly, before Linnaeus, the phlox flower appeared under the name Lychnidea in an herbalism written by the seventeenth-century English botanist Leonard Plukenet. The word lychnidea, also of Greek origin, means a lamp.
What does the Phlox flower symbolize?
The phlox flower became very popular during the Victorian era when the flower was widely used in bouquets. It is said that in Victorian England, girls were often seen carrying bouquets of garden phlox flowers.
At that time, the gift of a phlox flower was a public expression of love or a declaration of a marriage proposal. Gifting a fragrant phlox flower, on the other hand, carried the message of sweet dreams.
The symbolic meanings of the phlox flower can be summarized as united hearts, united souls, unanimity, harmony, partnership, compatibility, and sweet dreams. The unity and unanimity symbolism was derived from the close grouping (clusters) in the flower head. Possible magical powers of the phlox flower included friendship spells and relationship spells.
In the mythology of the Native Americans, one variety of the phlox flower, Phlox subulata, is a central motif of a beautiful legend. The story goes that the Chickasaw tribe once trespassed on the hunting grounds of another tribe, the Creek Indians.
This happened near the Savannah River in the southern United States. The act was seen as a provocation, and the two tribes entered a battle that lasted for three days. Eventually, the members of the Chickasaw tribe tried to retreat, but they were trapped by a firewall set by the warriors of the Creek tribe.
A little boy from the Chickasaw tribe named Chuhla (Blackbird) asked all his animal friends to help his people extinguish the fire. Many animals came to help, and their participation in the event left them forever changed. The little white squirrel turned gray from the soot and ash. The dear lost its tail in flames. When the Great Spirit saw their plight, he transformed the embers into a flame of bright red phlox flowers, which covered the path and helped the Chickasaws escape.
Another legend says that the phlox flowers were created from the flaming torches that Odysseus and his sailors used. At the time of their descent into the underworld of Hades, they all carried those torches to illuminate the path ahead of them.
Once the mission was accomplished and the men came out of the dungeon, they threw away the no longer-needed torches. When the torches touched the ground, they sprouted and became phlox flowers in honor of Odysseus’ bravery.
Because of their bright color and the sweet, lingering scent, the phlox flowers were greatly appreciated during the Middle Ages. In romantic fiction, the knight was always depicted as someone who fought for a noble cause. A knight protected a fair lady, and she, in return, always stood by his side.
According to the chivalry codex, many knights wore phlox flowers on their clothes. During the evening festivities, the knight would take off the phlox flower and gift it to his fair lady.
All in all, the phlox flower symbolic meanings are:
- united hearts and souls
Meaning of the Phlox flower colors
Traditionally, pink is a color of gentleness, kindness, and femininity. Pink phlox flowers symbolize a warm and tender expression of love and the spirit of romantic intimacy.
A popular cultivar of pink-colored phlox flowers is the Phlox adsurgens ‘Wagon Wheel.’ The pink blooms are wheel-shaped and narrow-petalled. Another widely-cultivated variety of pink phlox flowers is Phlox nivalis ‘Camlaensis,’ known for its rich-pink, saucer-shaped flowers.
Traditionally, white symbolizes purity, innocence, simplicity, and new beginnings. White phlox flowers represent pure intentions and commitment to a relationship.
A popular garden variety of white-flowered phlox flowers is Phlox paniculata ‘Mount Fuji.’ It has star-shaped, white blooms. Another phlox species with white flowers is Phlox stolonifera ‘Ariane.’ The blooms are fully open and saucer-shaped.
Red is a color of passion, intense emotions, and energy. A red phlox flower is an expression of strong infatuation and passionate love.
A popular garden variety of red-flowered phlox flowers is Phlox paniculata ‘Prince of Orange.’ This garden variety has tubular, orange-red flaming flowers in conical heads.
Blue and Purple color
Blue and purple are colors of elevated emotions, spirituality, inspiration, and wisdom. Blue or violet plot flowers symbolize deep understanding, responsibility, and maturity. They are representative of a stable, harmonious, and long-lasting relationship that lives beyond the flames of a youthful infatuation.
Many phlox cultivars and hybrids have stunning blue or purple flowers. A popular phlox flower with bluish or violet petals is Phlox divaricata subsp. laphamii. The flowers are saucer-shaped, and the plant of this species is a creeping semi-evergreen.
The flowers of Phlox bifida (Sand phlox) often have a lilac hue. This variety is impressive for its lance-shaped leaves and profuse blossoming of star-shaped, deeply cleft petals.
Among the most impressive are Phlox douglasii ‘Boothman’s Variety’ blossoms. The flowers are lavender-blue with violet-blue markings around the center. Finally, violet-blue is the large and saucer-shaped flower of the Phlox subulata ‘Emerald Cushion’ hybrid.
Interesting facts about the Phlox flowers
- Insects and birds pollinate the phlox flowers, including bees, long-tongued bumblebees, butterflies, moths, skippers, and hummingbirds.
- Phlox paninculata is known for spreading continuously by forming fairy rings (sometimes called elf circles or pixie rings).
- The phlox plant has been widely used in traditional medicine. An extract produced from the leaves is used as a laxative and as a medicine to treat boils and colds. Meskwaki Indians used the leaves of Phlox pilosa (common names: dream’s phlox, hairy phlox, and prairie phlox) to make an infusion which was applied as medicine to purify the blood and treat eczema.
- The root of this plant was also used as a ‘love medicine.’ Some Native Indian tribes used the phlox plant to treat anemia in babies. The Cheyenne Indians used the phlox flower to treat body numbness.
- The flowers of the garden phlox flower are edible and often used to garnish salads and other dishes. Their taste is described as mildly spicy. Another popular way to consume the blue phlox flower is by making herbal tea.
- Drummond phlox was named after the British botanist Thomas Drummond who, in 1835, sent seeds of this flower from Texas to England. This annual species of phlox flowers is a common field and roadside flower of North America. However, Drummond was not the first to introduce the phlox flower in England.
- In 1745, John Bartram had sent to London seeds of three other phlox flower varieties: Phlox divaricata, Phlox paniculata, and Phlox subulata.
- In the early twentieth century, a cultural phenomenon of ‘phlox fever’ made the phlox flower extremely popular. The German horticulturist, gardener, and garden writer Karl Foerster once wrote: ‘Life without phlox is a mistake.’
- The full moon in April is called the ‘full pink moon’ by the Native Americans. They gave this name in honor of the phlox subulata variety, a moss-pink phlox flower that blooms in early spring.
- The scent of a phlox flower changes with the temperature change. The phlox flower species, which have fragrant blooms, change the intensity of its scent. When the temperature is highest, the scent is strongest. Based on the geographic region, some phlox flowers smell best at noon and others in the evening.
- A wide variety was discovered in 1990 in Wyoming. It was named after the small town where it was found — Phlox opalensis (Opal phlox).
- Japan has as many as four festivals dedicated to the phlox flower. The largest and most famous among them is celebrated within the Full Five Lakes area of the Greater Tokyo region. This happens every spring (mid-April to early June). Seven varieties of white, pink, red, and purple flowers of phlox moss (creeping phlox) cover an area of 2.4 hectares. The festival is known as Fuji Shibazakura. A carpet of 800,000 creeping phlox flowers blooming with Mt. Fuji in the background is an ethereal sight.
- There are three parks in Japan where huge carpets of phlox flowers cover the ground every spring.
- Hitsujiyama Park, set amidst forests, mountains, and sloping hills.
- Takinoue Park
- Higashimokoto Moss Pink Park
The latter is a huge project by Chubachi Sueyoshi, a man who single-handedly created the park over the span of 8 years. When he received a phlox flower from his sister, he was very much impressed by the beauty of the flower.
He started the project of creating a phlox park in 1947, soon after the end of World War II. He used just one box of seeds to cultivate all the phlox flowers in the park.
- Most phlox wildflower species are not endangered. However, a few rare phlox varieties have special protection status. Among them are Phlox hirsuta (Yreka phlox) and phlox nivalis ssp. texensis (Texan phlox), both listed as endangered species of the United States.
- Some mammal species, such as the white-tailed deer and the eastern cottontail rabbit, eat the phlox plant.
How to grow Phlox flowers
While phlox are hardy, long-blooming flowers that require little care once planted, they still require care.
- Plant the phlox in slightly alkaline and moist soil.
- Place them where they can get about 6 hours of sun exposure daily.
- Keep the soil evenly moist, but do not overwater.
- Add a two-inch layer of mulch to keep your soil moist.
- Add a thin layer of compost to the soil, which provides nutrients that stimulate growth.
How to care for Phlox flowers
- Water the phlox during dry spells or when the foliage begins to wilt.
- Regularly weed around your plant so that weeds do not sap their strength.
- Remove the dead/faded flowers so that your plants can rebloom.
Best time to gift Phlox flowers
For the romantic at heart, phlox flowers can be gifted to a loved one on any occasion to convey romance, affection, commitment, and a harmonious relationship.
When given in a bouquet, the phlox flowers are also a way of wishing someone good luck. They make beautiful gifts and decorations on the occasion of an engagement or a marriage.
A mainstay and showstopper in cottage gardens everywhere, phlox flowers are beloved for their large, brightly colored clusters of relatively easy-growing and maintaining flowers. They also have a rich symbolic history and deep cultural significance across North America.
Whether you select phlox with bright-red, flame-like blossoms or phlox with a cooler color, these gorgeous blossoms will undoubtedly light up the look of your garden!