Skeleton Flower: Meaning, Symbolism, and Colors

Skeleton Flowers

A unique flower, the Diphylleia grayi, or the skeleton flower is a sight to behold, especially during rainy days. Belonging to the Berberidaceae family and the Diphylleia genus, this is one rare flower that doesn’t like the hot summers. It’s a lesser-known relative of fairy wing and mayapple.

Also called the umbrella plant or the Asian umbrella leaf, it grows in large, fuzzy green clumps, with umbrella-shaped foliage, and clusters of the white skeleton flowers bloom in late spring. A unique feature of the skeleton flower is that when exposed to rain (or water), it transforms almost magically into a translucent beauty, representing its skeletal form. The white petals appear completely clear in the wet form and return to their original white color as they dry.

This flower is found only in three locations in the world: along the moist wooded mountainsides of colder regions in China and Japan, and the Appalachian Mountains in the United States. There are three different species for these three regions – the Appalachians have Diphylleia cymosa, Japan has Diphylleia Sinensis, and China has Diphylleia grayi. The plant is widely distributed across North to Central Honshu, Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and Mount Daisen.

It’s mainly of Chinese origin and translates to glass flower or skeleton flower. The flowers are recognized by the bright yellow and green centers. In late summertime, the flowers fade and get replaced by the eye-catching fruit of cobalt blue color.

The first appearance of these flowers is in early spring, with the folded up leaves slowly unfurling. The flowers appear next, blooming from May to July, with the deeply lobed foliage spreading over the stems representing an umbrella-like spread. The skeleton flower is a deciduous perennial that dies in the winter. The delicate, tissue-thin flowers are affected by moisture that turns them into translucent blooms.

When the flowers dry up, they turn a faded white and the plant transforms to reddish seed stalks with clusters of bright blue-purple berry-like fruit with a powdery coating.

What do Skeleton Flowers Symbolize?

Usually, skeleton flower meaning signifies affection and happiness. This mystical flower is often called the chameleon of the woods due to its varying appearance. Being surrounded by blooms of skeleton flowers helps relax the mind and body. This leads to skeleton flower meaning to represent peace and calm.

What do the Various Colors of the Skeleton Flower Mean?

Diphylleia grayi

The skeleton flower is typically white with yellow centers. The only time these flowers change color is during rains or when exposed to water. They turn almost transparent, only to return to their original white color when dry.

As for the other variations of the skeleton flower, the Diphylleia cymosa which is an ornamental plant native to the United States is similar. The white flowers have six petals and grow in dome-shaped clusters above the foliage. The Diphylleia sinensis or the Chinese umbrella leaf also has similar white blooms.

There are no other known variant colors of the skeleton flower.

Interesting Facts and Characteristics of the Skeleton Flower

· The flower’s petals have a loose cell structure. The transparency of the skeleton flower meaning when there’s rain, the raindrops stick to the vein-like structure, filling the cells to increase the reflection of light. This makes the flower appear translucent.

· The Diphylleia cymosa plant was discovered in the Appalachian Mountains and named by Andre Michaux, a French botanist.

· In 2015, Jonghyun, the South Korean artist and member of Shinee (a boy band) composed and released the song ‘Diphylleia Grayi’ for his album Story Op. 1. The double-leaf metaphor has been used in the composition of the song to personify struggles, both internal and external.

· In September 2015, Jonghyun released the book ‘Skeleton Flower: Things That Have Been Released and Set Free.’

· With a shady and moist environment, this white woodland blossom could be planted by gardeners eager to witness the unique characteristics of the flower’s sensitivity to moisture.

· When the white petals are touched by water, the water gets absorbed. The cell gap of the flower is filled, with the light changing from reflection to refraction, creating a translucent effect.

· The Diphylleia grayi is an herbaceous perennial that grows up to 0.4 meters in height and one meter wide. The plant prefers shaded conditions and partial sunlight.

· In traditional Chinese medicine, Diphylleia sinensis has been used to treat coughs, malaria, jaundice, etc. It’s known to have antiseptic properties. The podophyllin in this plant is an anti-cancer component. This led to the skeleton flower meaning to signify cure.

· The flowers of Diphylleia cymosa last for one or two weeks, giving way to clusters of the berry-like fruit that ripen during the summer months.

Growing Skeleton Flowers

These perennial plants require partial sun exposure or full shade and grow well in hardiness zones 4-9. Growing the Diphylleia grayi requires mimicking the conditions of its native habitat – shaded under deciduous trees’ canopy, protection from strong winds, and moist, rich soil. Commonly, the skeleton flower isn’t affected by pests or diseases. It takes about three years for a young plant to attain flowering maturity.

The plant is extremely sensitive to harsh sunlight and thrives in shady locations, like woodlands. The soil needs to be consistently moist; slow and deep watering helps during dry spells. Humus-rich consistently drained sandy soil, abundant in organic material is ideal for growing this plant. In the natural habitat, the skeleton flower receives an abundance of decaying organic matter. To mimic this, mulching the plant with good amounts of compost and leaf mold is needed every year. Suppose this can’t be done, a complete fertilizer can be added around early spring.

Best Time to Gift Someone Skeleton Flowers

While it isn’t typically gifted to anyone, since skeleton flowers are rarely occurring exotic plants, there are several accessories made to signify skeleton flowers. More commonly, Diphylleia grayi seeds could be gifted. Although, growing the skeleton flower from seed is quite unreliable, there are techniques prescribed to help. It would be best to gift someone living in colder regions, a potted, bonsai variant of Diphylleia grayi or the seeds for the possibility of flowering eventually. Generally, the skeleton flower meaning as a gift isn’t very common.