Last updated on May 22nd, 2023 at 11:42 pm

The stock flower, also known as stock gilliflower, belongs to the genus Matthiola of the family Cruciferae. The genus consists of 55 semi-shrub, annual or perennial plants. While Matthiola incana is regarded as the ‘true stock flower,’ several other plants of the Brassicaceae family are also commonly known as stock flowers.

Stock flowers are native to Western Europe, the Mediterranean, Central Asia, and North and South Africa. These flowers vary in size; they are often sweetly scented and can be found in several colors. The primary colors are white, pink, and purple/blue, although many modern cultivars and hybrids display a much larger palette of colors. The flowers are sequentially arranged along the stem, flowering from bottom to top. The scent is often described as spicy and clove-like. The plant can be between 30 cm to 90 cm tall and 20 cm to 45 cm wide.

Common names of the stock flower are common stock, hoary stock, ten-week stock, and Brompton stock. Between 1300 and 1500, the stock flowers were called gillyflower (also spelled gillyflower or gilliflower). Today some gillyflower species (such as carnations and dianthus) are no longer classified as ‘true stock flowers.’ In Sanskrit, the stock flower is known as todari, while in Urdu, it is called todri safaid and todri zard.

The stock flower has an interesting and complex etymology. To begin with, the common name stock is linked to the fact that some species produce a woody stalk. The other commonly used name, stock-gilliflower, means a gilliflower with a wooden shoot.

The word gilliflower comes from the word giroflée, the French name for the dianthus (a flower with a scent similar to that of a stock flower). Other linguists hypothesize that the wordy gillyflower might corrupt the word July-flower, used to describe flowers that bloomed in July. The common name stock-gilliflower has been in use since the early sixteenth century. Over time, a shortened version of the name — stock flower — became much more popular.

The stock flower’s Latin name, Matthiola, was given in honor of the sixteenth-century Italian doctor and botanist from Siena, Pierandrea Mattioli. He believed the scented stock flowers might have medicinal values promoting love and lust.

Many of the names of specific stock flower varieties reflect a particular plant feature. For example, Matthiola incana (also known as hoary stock) derives its name from the word incana, meaning gray. Matthiola longipetala (the night-scented or evening stock) can be translated as a long-petalled stock. Malcolmia maritima (Virginia stock, or Malcolm stock) belongs to a related genus of flowers, Malcolmia

This genus owes its name to the father-son duo William and William Malcolm, British nursery-men who lived in the early nineteenth century. The species name maritima refers to this flower’s coastal natural habitat.

What Does The Stock Flower Symbolize?

During the Victorian era, in the symbolic language of the flowers, the meaning attributed to the stock flower was everlasting beauty, bonds of affection, and promptness. This symbolism drew inspiration from the writings of the English herbalist John Gerard. In 1633, Gerard described the stock flowers as “of divers colors, greatly esteemed for the beautie of their flourer, and pleasant sweet smell.”

Some modern-day common symbolic meanings of the stock flower are longevity, lasting happiness, contentment, success, celebration, appreciation of the moment, spiritual purity, dedication, bliss, and experiencing a spiritual state of oneness.

In praise of the Virgin Mary, St. Bernard once called her ‘the golden gillyflower of heaven.’

All in all, the stock flower symbolic meanings are:

  • happy life
  • cheerfulness
  • contented existence
  • lasting beauty
  • success
  • positive energy

Meaning Of The Stock Flower Colors

White color

The white stock flower represents truth, incorruptibility, innocence, and purity. As a symbol of divine and long-lasting beauty, the white stock flower is fit for wedding and baptism decorations.

Pink color

The pink stock flower symbolizes gentleness, romance, femininity, and motherly love. As a gift, it can express gratitude and appreciation for any motherly figure in one’s life.

The pink stock flower also symbolizes the innocence and sweetness of first love. It is a gentle expression of love.

Blue/Purple color

The blue and purple stock flower symbolizes harmonious friendship and trust. It also represents respect, dignity, honor, and royalty.

Blue or purple stock flowers have a strong spiritual vibration and connotation. They emphasize the concept of living mindfully in the present moment. They are representative of meditative, knowledgeable, and wise souls. Stock flowers of this color are best gifted to teachers, mentors, and elders.

Interesting Facts About The Stock Flowers

  • The stock flowers are edible. They are used for decoration in salads and other dishes. They have a snappy taste, like cinnamon, cloves, or radish. The leaves and roots are bitter and should not be consumed. The Spaniards used clove gilliflower as a spicy flavoring in drinks. Stock flowers have had culinary use since ancient Greece. Englishmen sometimes called the gillyflowers ‘sops-in-wine’ at the time of Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare.
  • The stock flowers have minimal use in herbal medicine. Some ancient records state that the seeds of the gillyflower have been used as an aphrodisiac and diuretic. The stock flower infusion and wine mixture were believed to be a strong antidote for poisonous bites. 
  • In the nineteenth century, the stock flowers became very popular among the weavers of Upper Saxony. They tried to minimize cross-pollination that would lead to a color dilution in the cultivated stock flower species. This was governed cooperatively. Each village was assigned a particular color, and within a particular village, gardeners would only cultivate flowers of that particular color.
  • During the Middle Ages in England, the stock flower was used as a currency in feudal tenure contracts. More specifically, the flowers were deposited while buying land or paying rent. Primarily, it was a mode of payment of what was known as ‘peppercorn rent’ (small payments) for land. Historical records indicate that in thirteenth-century Kent, Bartholomew de Badlesmere was paid by King Edward I in clove gilliflowers.
  • For centuries, stock flowers were typically referred to under their common name, gillyflowers, encompassing a larger family of flowers. The French writer Émile Zola mentioned the gillyflower in his novel ‘La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret.’ William Shakespeare mentioned the gillyflower in his play ‘Winter’s Tale.’ Thomas Glover wrote about the gillyflower or stock flower in his book ‘Account of Virginia.’
  • Sir John Frederick William Herschel (1792-1871) used the stock flower in his work. Sir Herschel is the first photographer to use photography, snap-shot, negative and positive. His goal was to make advancements in color photography, and, towards that end, he experimented with the herbal derivatives of many plants. He produced alcohol from the petals of the stock flower variety Matthiola annua. The result of this experiment was a ‘rich and florid rose-red’ tint. This tint had limited response to rays of red and yellow light. Herchel was happy with these findings and noted that using this tint could yield extremely beautiful photographs with patience.
  • In his famous travelogues, the seventeenth-century Ottoman explorer Evlia Chelebi mentions the stock flower. He wrote that stock flowers of Matthiola incana had been cultivated in the exceptionally beautiful and diversity-rich gardens of the Anatolian city Edirne.
  • Numerous botanists, horticulturalists, and naturalists have celebrated the scent of the night-scented stock flower over the centuries. For example, in his book from 1895, Donald McDonald describes the night-scented stock flower Matthiola bicornis. He said the flower was ‘inconspicuous in general beauty, but possessing charms that recommend its cultivation in every garden.’ He described the scent as balmy, powerful, delightful, pervading the atmosphere, delicious, and widely diffused.
  • E.R. Saunders (1865-1945) was a renowned botanist and one of the first women recognized in the academic circles of her time. Her main scientific contributions were in the area of plant genetics. In her research, she used the night-scented stock flower Matthiola. She produced many Matthiola crosses and recorded important deviations from Medelian behavior. These deviations were recognized as complementation and genetic linkage.
  • The double-flowered stock species have always been the most sought-after. The first double-flowered stocks appeared in the 16th century through cultivation. However, they were sterile and thus had to be grown from seed from parents carrying the recessive gene for doubling. The Danish geneticist Øjvind Winge (1886–1964) has been credited with the most significant increase in the production level of double-flowered stock flowers. This eventually led to higher stock flower cultivation and trade commercialization.
  • William Cobbett (1763-1835), the famous English politician and journalist who opposed the government, left the country and settled in Long Island, New York. There he became interested in the cultivation of vegetables and flowers. Cobbett wrote: ‘If I were to choose, amongst the biennials and annuals, I should certainly choose the Stock.’ He described the stock flowers as elegant, showy, beautiful, and fragrant.
  • Historical records indicate that Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Father of the United States, grew stock flowers in one of his Monticello gardens.
  • The Maltese stock flower (Matthiola incana subsp. melitensis) is an endemic species found only on the Maltese islands. Known under the local name Giżi ta’ Malta, this dwarf violet stock flower is scarce. It is categorized as a strictly protected species and listed in the Red Data Book of the Maltese Islands. The Bulgarian Matthiola odoratissima is on the list of protected species by the national Biodiversity Act.
  • The Mediterranean stock flower species Matthiola parviflora occurred in Tucson, Arizona, in the early 2000s. The species has been flagged as fast spreading and potentially invasive. The species name parviflora comes from the Greek word parvus, meaning small, and flora, meaning ‘flower’ — a small-flowered plant.
  • The species of stock flower (Matthiola) are bisexual plants, having functional male (androecium) and female (gynoecium) organs, including stamens, carpels, and ovary. Pollination happens through insects or cross-pollination.

How To Grow Stock Flowers

Stock plants thrive in the same growth conditions as common cottage garden plants, such as moist, well-draining soil and chilly yet sunny weather.

  1. Plant the stock flowers in rich, well-drained soil with a pH close to neutral.
  2. Choose a spot where they can get at least 2-3 hours of sun daily.
  3. Water regularly in the summer heat, but be careful not to overwater, as this can yellow the leaves.
  4. Add a layer of natural mulch to keep weed growth down and the soil evenly moist and cool for optimal growing conditions.

How To Care For Stock Flowers

  1. Provide roughly an inch of water per week in the absence of rain.
  2. Weed the garden regularly to reduce water competition, prevent pests, and increase air circulation, which reduces fungal growth.
  3. Mulch the ground with a two-inch layer for weed control, soil moisture retention, and ground cooling.
  4. Deadhead stock flowers after the petals wilt to keep the stock flowers looking neat and help generate new growth and possibly more blooms.

Best Time To Gift Stock Flowers

Stock flowers are used as ornamental garden flowers and cut flowers. They are commonly gifted in weddings, preferably as white, cream, and peach blooms. They make a lovely Mother’s Day gift, especially when chosen in pink and purple hues. Red or pink stock flowers can be a beautiful gift for a loved one on Valentine’s Day.

A bouquet of stock flowers symbolizes joy, happiness, and celebration. This symbolism makes them a universal gift. Stock flowers can also be gifted on various special occasions. They are appropriate gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, childbirth, baptism, new job or promotion, and family relocations.

None of the meanings of the stock flower has a negative connotation. One can, therefore, safely choose this flower as a beautiful gift that matches any situation and occasion. Stock flowers always convey heartfelt emotions. They are a strong reminder that life is transient and that every moment of joy should be strongly embraced.

The stock flower is astrologically linked to the Taurus (April 20 – May 20). It can be gifted to any friend or family born under this zodiac sign.


Today, the stock flower has a range of connotations that gardeners should be aware of.

The meaning of the stock flower is always positive, and if you choose it for a certain event, you will make a good decision. Even though the stock flower has a positive symbolism, it should never be coupled with flowers without a positive one.

If you want to know and learn more about flowers, we at PansyMaiden can help you. Check out our fun, easy-to-read, and informative flower-related content that you will surely enjoy!