The Meaning of Flowers: A Cultural and Perceptual Exploration of Ornamental Flowers

Efrat Huss1, Kfir Bar Yosef1, Michele Zaccai2, *
1 Spitzer Department of Social Work, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, 84105 Beersheva, Israel
2 Department of Life Sciences, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheva 84105, Israel

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Creative Commons License
© 2017 Huss et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Life Sciences, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheva 84105, Israel; Tel: 972-8-6479196; Fax: 972-8-6479261; E-mail:



Since ancient times people have been attracted by flowers and have invested precious energy to cultivate them even though there is no known reward for this costly behavior- in all cultures. How can this attraction be understood? To what extend is this relationship between people and flowers made up of evolutionary, cognitive, perceptual, emotional or socio-cultural components? Does it shift within different cultures? How can we better understand the attraction of people to flowers on both a cultural and universal level? Many questions in this field remain open.


To understand culturally constructed versus universal-perceptual components of the attraction of people to flowers. To explore how different types of cultivated flowers (with different perceptual elements) are conceptualized within a specific culture.


Using mixed methods, we investigated the comparative preference of 150 participants for four visually different flowers. We explored the reasons for the preferred choice of flower. Based on the above first phase, we investigated participants' perceptions of the concept of a generic 'flower' and compared this to a mandala. Based on this second phase, we moved into cultural, perceptual and psychological theories using a concept-map, to access cultural understandings of specific flowers.


All four different flowers were equally chosen as first choice and therefore we introduced the generic or universal concept of 'floweriness' that was characterized by enhancing calmness and happiness.

On this level, the concept of the flower ranked higher for inducing happiness as compared to a mandala shape that induced more interest. The other three flowers were ranked and differentiated in terms of the cultural connotations that their different visual components aroused, within the context of Israeli culture.


The results illustrate the interactive synergetic interplay between universal perceptual and specific cultural elements in relation to specific flowers. Together with this differentiation, the results also point to a central concept of “floweriness” that transcends the specific cultural connotations of specific flowers.

Keywords: Cultural construction of meaning of flowers, Perceptual impact of flowers, Phenomenology, Cultural context.