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 every season of the year.
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 nomenclature, Carl Linnaeus. The shape of the phlox flower is often compared to that of a torch, and the flower is 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. The word phlox is also related to a Greek word from phlegm, a cause of inflammations and sore throats.
Interestingly, prior to Linnaeus, the phlox flower appeared under the name Lychnidea, in an herbal written by the seventeenth-century English botanist Leonard Plukenet. The word lychnidea, also of a Greek origin, means a lamp.
Phlox Flower Symbolism
A Flower of Love and Unity
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.
The Great Spirit’s Flowers of Flame
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 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 fire wall set by the warriors of the Creek tribe.
A little boy from the Chicksaw 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 sooth and ash. The dear lost its tail in the 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.
The Flame Flower of Greek Gods and Heroes
The legend says that the phlox flowers were created from the flaming torches used by Odysseus and his sailors. 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 got accomplished and the men came out from the dungeon, they threw away the torches which were no longer needed. As soon as the torches touched the ground, they sprouted and became phlox flowers, in honor of Odysseus’ bravery.
The Great Spirit’s Flowers of Flame
Appreciated for 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.
What Do the Various Colors of the Phlox Flower Mean
Phlox flowers come in a wide range of colors, including white, pink, red, pale blue and violet. The symbolism of each of these colors needs to be paired with the overall meanings of the phlox flower. Only then can one properly understand the specific message carried by each of this differently-colored phlox blooms.
Pink Phlox Flower Meaning
Traditionally, pink is a color of gentleness, kindness and femininity. Pink phlox flowers symbolize 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 a pink phlox flower is Phlox nivalis ‘Camlaensis’, known for its rich-pink, saucer-shaped flowers.
White Phlox Flower Meaning
Traditionally, white is a color of purity, innocence, simplicity and new beginnings. White phlox flowers symbolize 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 Phlox Flower Meaning
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 Phlox Flower Meaning
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 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 the blossoms of Phlox douglasii ‘Boothman’s Variety’. The flowers are lavender-blue with violet-blue markings around the center. Finally, violet-blue are also the large and saucer-shaped flowers of the Phlox subulata ‘Emerald Cushion’ hybrid.
Some Interesting Facts and Characteristics of the Phlox Flower
- Pollinators: The phlox flowers are pollinated by a wide variety of insects and birds, including bees, long-tongued bumblebees, butterflies, moths, skippers, and hummingbirds.
- Pixie rings of phlox flowers: The species Phlox paninculata is known for its ability to continuously spread by forming fairy rings (sometimes called elf circles or pixie rings).
- Medicinal use: The phlox plant has widely been 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. This infusion 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 garden phlox is an edible flower: 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 a herbal tea.
- The roadside phlox flower named after a botanist: 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. Almost a century earlier, in 1745, John Bartram had sent to London seeds of three other phlox flower varieties: Phlox divaricata, Phlox paniculata, and Phlox subulata.
- The Phlox flowers craze: In the early twentieth century, a cultural phenomenon of a ‘phlox fever’ made the phlox flower extremely popular. The German horticulturalist, gardener and garden writer Karl Foerster once wrote: ‘Life without phlox is a mistake’.
- A flower of the ‘full pink moon’: The full moon in April is called the ‘full pink moon’ by the Native Americans. They gave this name in honor to the Phlox subulata variety, a moss pink phlox flower which blossoms in early spring.
- The fragrance of the phlox flower: The scent of a phlox flower changes with the change in temperature. 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 other in the evening.
- A newly discovered phlox flower: A wide phlox flower variety was discovered in 1990 in Wyoming. It was named after the small town where it was found — Phlox opalensis (Opal phlox).
- Fuji Shibazakura: Japan has as many as four different flower festivals dedicated to the phlox flower. The largest and most famous among them is celebrated within 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.
- Japanese phlox moss flower parks: There are thee parks in Japan where huge carpets of phlox flowers cover the ground every spring. One of them in Hitsujiyama Park, set amidst forests, mountains and sloping hills. The other two are Takinoue Park and in the Higashimokoto Moss Pink Park. The later is a huge project by Chubachi Sueyoshi, a man who single-handedly, over the span of 8 years, created the park. 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 the World War II. It is said that he used just one box of seeds to cultivate all the phlox flowers in the park.
- Endangered species status: Most phlox wild flower 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.
- Animals that love to eat plox flowers: Some mammal species, such as the white-tailed deer and the eastern cottontail rabbit eat the plox plant.
The Best Time to Gift Someone a Phlox Flower
For the romantic at heart, phlox flowers can be given to a loved one on any occasion, to convey the messages of romance, affection, commitment and harmonious relationship.
When given in a bouquet, the phlox flowers are also a way of wishing someone good luck. They make beautiful gift and decorations on the occasion of an engagement or a marriage.
Followers of the Wicca tradition consider the phlox flower a perfect celebration flower for spring celebrations, including the Beltane, Ostara, and Imbolc festivals.