Day of the Dead Flowers

Day of the Dead flowers is the name given in Mexico to the flowers used to decorate tombstones and altars during the Day of the Dead celebrations.

It is believed that the scent of the flowers will make the returning souls feel welcomed and happy.

Most of the flower types used during the celebration have a strong odor, are available during the fall, are durable and have a traditional meaning associated with death.

Their use depends on local costumes, local availability and financial capacity.

Mexican flowers market

Flowers market in Mexico City

The flowers listed below are used during the Day of the Dead celebrations:

  • Cempasuchil   (Tagetes erecta)
  • Wrongly known as Day of the Dead flowers, the cempasuchil are native to Mexico and Central America. The Aztecs named it zempoalxochitl which in Nahuatl means twenty flowers and used it in their funerary rituals.

    Natural or paper cempasuchil are widely used in every part of Mexico on Day of the Dead. Arches, crosses and garlands made with the flowers are set on altars and tombstones.

    In some communities, the petals of the flower are used to build a path from the house's entry to the altar. Thus, the bright color of the cempasuchil and its strong aroma will guide the souls to their offering.

    cempasuchil path

  • Terciopelo Rojo   (Celosia cristata)
  • The cockscomb is an annual plant of tropical origin. It grows well in both humid and dry conditions and its flowers can last for up to 8 weeks.

    In Mexican culture, the red cockscomb flower symbolizes the blood of Christ.
    During Day of the Dead celebrations red terciopelos are often combined with cempasuchil flowers to enhance altars and tombstones.

    Day of the dead altar

  • Alheli Blanco   (Matthiola Incana)
  • Known in English as hoary stock it is most appreciated for its sweet and delicate fragrance. The flower is indigenous to the Mediterranean coast and symbolizes beauty and simplicity.

    The white alheli is used to decorate the altars dedicated to the dead children as the white color is often associated with the purity of the children's souls.

    Hoary stock in Day of the Dead altar

  • Nube   (Gypsophila paniculata)
  • Baby's breath is native to Europe and is found on calcium-rich soils, including gypsum, hence the name of the genus. Nubes (clouds) are helpful in floristry as filler in flower bouquets. Combined with alhelis and gladiolas, nubes are used to enhance tombstones and altars.

    Soap wort in Day of the dead altar

  • Crisantemo Blanco   (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
  • Chrysanthemums, often called mums or chrysanths are native to Asia; they were cultivated by the Chinese as early as the 1500 B.C.

    In Mexico white chrysanths are used in funerals and Day of the Dead celebrations as a heritage from Spain where they are profusely used in All Souls Day.

    Chrysanths in Day of the Dead altar

  • Gladiolas   (Genus: Gladiolus)
  • Gladiolus name comes from the Latin word gladius (sword), and it was given as a prize to the triumphant gladiators. Most of the species of this genus come from Southern Africa.

    In many western cultures gladiolus symbolize remembrance and faithfulness, therefore they are popular in funerary and sympathy flower arrangements.

    In Mexico gladiolas are widely used on those arrangements and during Day of the Dead celebrations when its bouquets are set on tombstones and altars.


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