Hollyhock flowers have been a cornerstone of planting schemes for many years, and it’s not hard to see why, with their huge blooms coming in a range of different colors at heights that will tower above most popular ornamentals.
While some see hollyhocks as old-fashioned choices both for the ornamental garden and as a cut flower, these lovely showy blooms are making a comeback, as flowers often do.
More and more people are turning to traditional planting schemes with a new twist, incorporating hollyhocks, dahlias, petunias, and other ‘household’ species into gardens designed to bring the most wildlife possible into their gardens.
They attract a plethora of insects into your garden and have a range of uses, but being a beautiful ornamental aside, what do these plants actually mean?
What Does ‘Hollyhock’ Mean?
The common name, Hollyhock, is believed to come from the Anglo-Saxon ‘holy-hoc’, or holy mallow. The plant was thought to be holy as it was a ‘miracle plant’, used to cure a myriad of ailments.
The scientific name for the genus, Alcea, comes from the Greek word altheo, meaning “to cure”. This genus forms around 60 species within the marrow plant family, Malvaceae.
These plants are native to Europe and Asia, and while they’re often grown as ornamentals, they are still used medicinally in some areas.
The scientific name for the hollyhock has evolved over the centuries, first introduced as Malva Hortensis in the late 1500s.
Hollyhocks originated in China, and they made their way into Syria through trade routes.
Eventually, Crusaders which were returning to Europe took hollyhock seeds with them, and they’ve since spread all over the world. ‘Holy’ also refers to how they’ve been introduced to other parts of the world via Syria.
The Meaning Behind the Hollyhock Flower
The hollyhock flower has an abundance of multi-layered meanings, just like its uses as a remedy. Hollyhocks largely represent ambition, wealth (not necessarily monetary), ambition, and the circle of life.
It’s believed that the hollyhock was also used in Ancient Egyptian funerals, where wreaths of the flowers were buried with the dead.
In Iraq, the Shanidar Cave held an intriguing discovery, documented in the 1950s. Remains of nine Neanderthals possibly dating to 80,000 years ago were found.
Traces of hollyhock pollen, among other plants such as yarrow, horsetail, and cornflowers were close to the remains. All the remains of the flowers found in this grave have been traditionally used for medicinal purposes.
It’s been theorized that this was part of funeral preparations, cementing the ‘circle of life’ symbolism, and their use in funeral rites. However, this could also be due to the Persian jird, a rodent that stores seeds and flowers in its burrows.
The notion of ambition probably ties in to the plant’s vigorous growth habit. Hollyhocks are prolific flowers that have a prolonged blooming period, and reach much taller heights than other classic ornamental plants.
Fertility being linked to the hollyhock probably refers to the plant’s ability to set seed and reproduce vigorous flowers for the following year, while some plants seeds which are produced don’t resemble the traits of the parent flower.
The meaning of the hollyhock can also depend on the color.
What does a Red Hollyhock Flower Signify?
Red hollyhock flowers signify love and devotion. They’re traditionally given as a romantic gesture, but it’s not a flower exclusively given for romantic reasons.
What does a Purple Hollyhock Flower Represent?
Purple hollyhock flowers symbolize grace, and someone who has a noble character, someone who you feel inexplicably drawn to.
What does a Yellow Hollyhock Bloom Mean?
Yellow hollyhocks represent optimism, joy, and affection, along with pink and orange hollyhocks. These are generally used to convey affection which is not romantic in nature, but it’s nevertheless potent, and perhaps life-shaping.
What is the Cultural Significance Behind the Hollyhock Flower?
Hollyhocks have been grown as ornamental plants for thousands of years, and one reason why they’ve been so popular is because they’ll thrive in most conditions, provided they are in full sun, and the soil isn’t boggy.
They also produce large numbers of viable seeds, allowing them to spread easily, no matter the climate.
It’s interesting to note that Joseph Breck called hollyhocks “old-fashioned” and “ordinary” in 1851, until the double-form flower had been produced.
It just goes to show you exactly how long we’ve been growing them, and how anything ‘old-fashioned’ comes to a full circle!
In Japan, hollyhocks have also been cultivated for centuries, and became so popular that they were included into the seal of the Tokugawa shogunate. There’s also a hollyhock festival held every year in Kyoto, called Aoi Matsuri.
Hollyhocks have been used since ancient times, across many different cultures for their medicinal properties, helping to soothe tuberculosis and inflammations of both humans and animals such as horses.
In both Ancient Rome and Egypt, the roots of the hollyhock were used in culinary dishes, as this part of the plant is rich in sugar. During the 1800s, the sap was used to make sweets.
In Greek myth, Althea (also a common name for the hollyhock) was the goddess of healing, protection, and family.
Hollyhocks are also a popular art subject. The plant was also used to depict St. Joseph in medieval paintings, known as St Joseph’s staff. The flowers came to represent St Joseph himself, and became synonymous with God’s lenience.
They are one of the cornerstone flowers for Art Nouveau decorations of all forms, thanks to their sinuous flower shape and tall structure, perfect for the aesthetic of admiring nature’s beauty through a stylized lens.
What does a Hollyhock Flower Tattoo Mean?
Hollyhock tattoos are symbolic of rebirth, life’s cycles, and new beginnings.
The flower, when used as a tattoo, is a sign of hope for the future, also a token of how far you’ve come, your resilience, and a reminder of healing.
It can serve as a reminder of how capable you are, and how you can bounce back from any tricky situation that life throws at you. This may help pave the way for new beginnings.
As the flower is linked to symbolism of fertility and parenthood, it can symbolize the relationship between you and your parents, or you and your children, and that connection which shapes different aspects of your life.
When Should You Give Someone Hollyhock Flowers?
Hollyhocks are not a very common gift, but this only makes their message more poignant. When given to someone else, hollyhocks embody respect, strength, and hope.
In this way, they can be used for numerous occasions, even being a reminder that the recipient is stronger than they know if they are struggling, or to show exactly how much you care for them.
They are also traditionally used to celebrate a 13th wedding anniversary.