Many plants bloom for only a few weeks, often in the spring or early summer, and the individual flowers tend to be short-lived. At their peak, flowers are delicate, colorful, and frequently sweet-scented. From these qualities emerge the symbolic meanings of flowers and, in some cultures, floral goddesses.
Many cultures connect flowers with birth, with the return of spring after winter, with life after death, and with joyful youth, beauty, and merriment. Yet because they fade quickly, flowers are also linked with death, especially the death of the young. Together the two sets of associations suggest death followed by heavenly rebirth, which may be one reason for the tradition of placing or planting flowers on graves. People also offer flowers to their gods at shrines and decorate churches with them.
In many societies, certain colors of flowers have acquired symbolic meanings. White blossoms, for example, represent both purity and death, while red ones often symbolize passion, energy, and blood. Yellow flowers may suggest gold or the sun. In the Chinese Taoist tradition the highest stage of enlightenment was pictured as a golden flower growing from the top of the head.
The shapes of flowers also have significance. Blossoms with petals projecting outward like rays of light from the sun have been associated with the sun and with the idea of the center—of the world, the universe, or consciousness.
The Aztecs, who dominated central Mexico before the early 1500s, had a goddess of sexuality and fertility named Xochiquetzal, which means "flower standing upright." She carried a bouquet of flowers and wore a floral wreath in her hair.
The Greeks also had a floral goddess, Chloris, who was married to Zephyrus, the god of the west wind. The Romans called her Flora and honored her each year with a celebration known as the Floralia. She was often portrayed holding flowers or scattering them; her blossom-crowned image appeared on coins of the Roman republic.