Significance & history behind flowers at funerals

Written by rob wagner
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Significance & history behind flowers at funerals
(George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Flowers at funerals symbolise the life cycle, its beauty, and to bring warmth to the ceremony. Before the advent of embalming, flowers were also used to mask body decomposition.

Ancient practice

A 1951 excavation in Northern Iraq determined that at least eight species of flowers, based on soil samples, were used at burial sites dating back to 62000 B.C., according to


Flowers were thought to be the symbol of the life cycle from birth to death, the fragility of life and its temporary beauty.

More practical reasons

Flowers were used at funerals originally to cover the odour of the decomposing body of the deceased, according to

Significance & history behind flowers at funerals
Flowers symbolise the life cycle. (Image by, courtesy of Sylvia)

Andrew Johnson’s problem

In 1875, funeral director Lazarus Shepard ordered large quantities of flowers to mask the smell of former President Andrew Johnson’s rapidly decomposing body until after the casket was placed in the ground.

Midwestern practice

In 19th century Midwest America, flower ladies served with the same distinction as pall bearers by carrying flowers from the funeral home to the processional vehicle, and then set up the flowers at the cemetery.


Flowers are a means of non-verbal expression of sympathy, but more often in past decades bereaved family members requested charitable donations in the name of the deceased to avoid waste of floral arrangements.

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