From ancient times floral symbols were very important for Ukrainians. Plants are signs of Ukrainian spiritual strength, they confirm people’s love for their country. There in’t the one and only national flower of Ukraine as different flowers play different roles in Ukrainian culture.
Periwinkle (barvinok) is a symbol of fidelity and eternity. The flower also symbolizes the trinity: childhood, middle age, old age; father, mother and child; spring, summer, autumn. Ukrainians use periwinkle in wedding wreaths (periwinkle signifies eternal love), wreaths for funeral, and plant on graves as a symbol of eternity and eternal memory.
There is a legend that explains the name of the flower and its symbolism. A young man named Bar and a young woman named Vinka loved each other and wanted to marry. Their neighbor was a witch, and she had an unmarried daughter who loved Bar. On Bar and Vinka wedding day the witch made lovers disappear. Bar’s mother began to cry, and in the place, where her tears dropped, a plant with blue flowers grew. People named it barvinok in memory of two lovers whose love became eternal.
Guelder-rose or kalyna is a national tree of Ukraine. It is a symbol of life, blood, fire. Ukrainians believe that kalyna connects the living and the hereafter. Kalyna also symbolizes maternity: bush – mother, blossom and berries – children. It is a symbol for home, parents, family.
Kalyna is a Ukrainian symbol for timeless unity of Ukrainian nation – those who live, those who passed away, and those who will be born. Kalyna personifies Ukraine as a symbol of motherland. Ukrainian saying states: “Without willow and guilder-rose there is no Ukraine”.
Ukrainians used kalyna in wedding rites because it is considered to be Ukrainian symbol for love. It was also used as a protective amulet and as a medicine. Kalyna berries are bitter, but they give strength and health to those who esteem dear land.
Kalyna was used to decorate Ukrainian wedding bread korovai as a symbol of woman’s beauty and man’s strength. It one of the most recognized national symbols of Ukraine.
Ukrainians call sunflower “sonyashnyk” (sontse – sun) as a symbol of solar energy. It also symbolizes fecundity and fertility, unity and well-being. The picture of flower was often used in wooden ware and kitchenware decoration, in embroidery, in paintings. Sunflower symbolism made the plant popular in Ukrainian culture.
For Ukrainians sunflower is one of the motherland symbols. They say “As a flower strains towards the light, so and a man strains with thoughts, words and deeds towards the motherland. As for the sunflower the sun is the only guide, so and for the man the motherland is the one and only treasure”.
For Ukrainians vyshnya (cherry tree) is a symbol of world tree, life, motherland, native land, mother. In Ukrainian folklore it symbolizes beauty and youth of a woman. There is a lot of poems, songs, stories in which cherry tree and cherry orchard play a key role.
Ancient Ukrainians celebrated New Year in spring on the day of vernal equinox (March 21). Cherry tree was ceremonial object of celebrations. In autumn young cherry tree was planted into a small barrel and kept indoors until spring. In March the tree began to bloom and on New Year’s Eve girls and women read its blossom.
Ukrainians enchanted cherry tree branches. A branch put under the roof protected the house, split and tied round branch helped to manage infantine diseases, used in different rituals – to tell fortune.
Mak (poppy) is a flower of dreams, fertility, beauty and youth. It also symbolizes infinity of the universe. The flower is still used in two religious festivals – Spas and Makoviy. Poppy seeds are one of the main ingredients of kutya – dish consumed by Ukrainians at Christmas. Herbalists used the plant as hypnic and sedative.
In folk medicine poppy is known as a protective charm against the evil eye. The flower protects not only humans, but also property. Poppy flower meaning made the plant popular on the territory of Ukraine.
Poppy blooms are tender and wilt in no time that’s why they are associated with beauty and youth that pass really fast. Because of the poppy symbolism its blooms were often used in wreaths to stress girl’s virginity that as the flower petals is lost and damaged so easily.
Cornflower or voloshka is one of twelve flowers traditionally used in Ukrainian wreath. It symbolizes life, youth, beauty, modesty and simplicity. Ukrainians believed that the flower was a potent protector against evil forces and all sorts of misfortunes, that’s why these flowers were grown in the backyards of many houses.
A bunch of cornflowers was used to sprinkle holy water on the newlyweds as a form of blessing. Wreaths made of cornflowers on religious holidays were kept in houses over the year. Cornflower petals were used to make infusions for washing-up – Ukrainians believed that such washing-ups protected girls’ beauty.
In some regions of Ukraine voloshky are called “vasylky” but this doesn’t change flower symbolism. The legend says that the name of a flower originates from a boy’s name Vasyl who was caught by mermaids and tormented by tickling. He turned into flower with blue blooms.
Willow tree or verba is one of the main Ukrainian symbols together with kalyna. Almost every lake or pond is graced with willow trees. The tree is Ukrainian symbol for family, ancestors, working ability. Verba featured in folk songs is connected with a woman who possesses magic powers and secrets, with fertility and motherhood. But verba is also a symbol of widowhood and woman’s grief, melancholy and sorrow.
Verba is used in several religious rituals. Palm Sunday in Ukraine is Willow Sunday (Verbna Nedilya) as no palms grow on its territory. Willow branches are still blessed at church and people touch each other with them with greetings and blessings.
Ukrainians also believed that verba helped to protect domestic animals against diseases, so blessed brunches were used to chase cattle from the barns to the vernal fields.
Oak (dub) is Ukrainian symbol for strength, power, vivacity, continuity and health. For Ukrainians dub is a symbol of abundant life, potent power, sublime beauty. Oak is a tree of life, as a symbol of eternity it was widely used as a basis for buildings, bridges, other constructions with wooden details.
In folk art oak is represented as a world tree, as a connector between living and hereafter. In fairy tales the entrance to the underworld is often situated under the oak, heroes can also use oak to get to the heaven. Dub is not only a tree, but also a sacral place.
Oak is a masculine symbol. In folk songs it is associated with a young man and a Cossack. Parents often told their sons (explaining their coming-into-being) that they had been found in oak branches.
Oak branches were often used as a charm against evil forces and gnawing animals.
Marigolds or chornobryvtsi symbolize young beauty, paternal home, native land. The flower was brought to Ukraine in nineteenth century and quickly became so popular that could be seen in every Ukrainian yard. It is thought to be Ukrainian national flower.
In Ukrainian folklore chornobryvtsy are children that reach out for their mother. Old legend says that once upon a time in one Ukrainian village lived a family with three gay and pretty sons. Enemies came to the village and kidnapped children. The mother tried to find children but couldn’t. She often cried near the window where the children used to play. Where her tears dropped, their chornobryvtsi grew.
Mallow (mal’vy) symbolizes love for native land, for nation and people that represent it, for paternal home. The plant is a symbol of national and spiritual roots, reminder of ancestors.
Mallow is often mentioned in folk culture, one can find pictures of mallow on folk paintings, decorative embroideries, clothes. The flower is one of the main elements of Ukrainians’ everyday life. It is considered to be a guardian of a house. According to the legend souls of good-hearted ancestors settle in mallows and protect those who live in the house, that’s why practically every Ukrainian family had mallows in their front yard.
Folk medicine used herbal infusion made out of mallow petals to treat cough and chest infections.