When looking for a gift to offer to someone who has lost a loved one, plants are often the most popular - and more obvious – choice. After all, plants are traditional, beautiful, and an easy way to convey sympathy in these moments. Plants have a long history of being gifted for important moments of a person's life. They are commonly given after the loss of a loved one.
While you may want to gift a sympathy plant, it doesn't mean you know where to find one, what to look for, or even what you shouldn't do in the situation. That's where we can help. Here are 8 tips for giving a plant or flower as a sympathy gift to someone after a loved one's death.
Plants have long played a role in our mourning practices. The earliest evidence we have of flowers in burial practices comes from an archaeological site in Israel. Archaeologists discovered impressions of flowers captured in the mud beneath a burial site. Carbon dating puts the placement of both skeletons and flowers in the grave between 13,700 – 11,700 BC. To date, these are the earliest known remains buried with flowers. However, the practice may predate that by some time.
Still, the purpose of flowers – and other plants – as part of grief and mourning have changed significantly over time. Originally, strong-smelling flowers were placed around the deceased to delay any unpleasant odor until funeral rites or burial could take place.
Before embalming sciences were developed, it was difficult for families and other mourners to spend time with a loved one after they died. Flowers were draped around the casket to mask unpleasant scents. As science progressed, this was no longer as much an issue.
Later, plants took on a newer – but no less significant – purpose in such practices. Gifting plants took on a symbolic meaning instead of a practical one. Plants and flowers became a common way to express sympathy and care after someone passes away. Often gifted as a sign of support, plants are another way of offering comfort to grieving people.
While flower arrangements or even wreaths are excellent sympathy gifts for memorial services or bereavement ceremonies, they are not always the best option. Potted plants are a popular alternative to arrangements for several reasons. For starters, plants live much longer than traditional cut flower arrangements.
While flowers are beautiful while in bloom, the process of wilting can also harken to the larger acknowledgment of death for someone grieving. By gifting a living thing, it can honor the memory of their loved one and live on in their stead.
Potted plants also give the recipient something living to care for. Studies suggest that caring for plants reduces psychological and physiological stress. It reduces stress and anxiety in many people and even helps lessen symptoms of depression.
Caring for the plant can give a grieving person something to do with their time. It offers a welcome distraction and can help maintain a schedule. It may even remind the person of their loved one when they care for it and help soothe their grief.
Moreover, plants are an eco-friendly gift. Since they provide no waste and are great for the environment, they are a good alternative to material gifts that may be discarded after use. These details are all good reasons to consider a sympathy plant in lieu of another gift.
Plants are an appropriate gift after any kind of loss. They are a common sympathy gift because they are so well-engrained in our culture as a sign of caring and support for someone who has lost someone they love. Whether it is a friend, parent, spouse, or another family member, they are always appropriate for the occasion.
You may think they are only given when the loss is someone close to them. However, you can consider this a gift even if someone has lost an acquaintance or distant family member. Sympathy plants are neither too intimate nor too impersonal for these kinds of loss.
They show that you are thinking of the person without overwhelming them in what may be a delicate or difficult time. If you are close with the person you are sending the gift to, you may want to consider adding more to this gift. However, it stands well on its own.
Loss has many forms, and it is not only humans that we mourn. You may also consider sending a sympathy plant after the loss of a pet. For many, losing a pet hurts just as much as losing a child. For more information about grieving the loss of a pet, you can visit our guide on pet loss gifts.
While you may want to gift a plant to someone, you may not know where to start looking for the right one. Not all of us are blessed with green thumbs, nor do we know where to buy exactly what we want. We have some recommendations for locating the perfect gift.
You can find florists in every urban center and, perhaps surprisingly, in rural areas as well. Local businesses offer many benefits. Local florists are typically cheaper than other options. They are experts in their field with plenty of experience to share.
Florists offer advice, whether it’s picking out a healthy plant or showing you which are easier to grow compared to trickier species. You’ll know the plant is fresh – and likely select it yourself – so that you can make sure it’s high quality with your own eyes.
If you are considering a larger plant (or even a small tree) as a gift, you may want to try shopping at a nursery instead. A nursery is an area where plants are grown, kept, or maintained to use as stock for other purposes. They are typically outdoors or in greenhouses. Much like local florists, nursery workers are well trained and knowledgeable about the plants under their care.
Overall, local businesses offer much better service and quality than big box retailers or internet brands. If you can, turn to them first before considering other options.
If you live far from the giftee or can't find exactly what you want from a local supplier, multiple online vendors specialize in flowers and plants. Many offer a range of pre-packaged sympathy plants they can send out quickly and efficiently.
For many, it may be more convenient to order this way. Here are some of the most popular online retailers:
Florist Transworld Delivery
Any one of these vendors offers a selection of plants for sympathy gifts. It does help the giver choose something from an appropriate stock.
Choosing any sympathy gift comes with difficulty. Will they like it? Is it something they can use? Will it bring them any sense of joy? Fortunately, you can rarely go wrong with the right sympathy plant. Plants are widely regarded as an appropriate gift after someone dies, whether sent to the family, friend, or even a coworker. They are thoughtful without being too intimate and still convey your concern and care. For that reason, we have compiled these tips to help you pick the perfect plant for your situation.
When you start looking at suitable plants to buy someone, you first need to decide where you think the person would be most likely to put it. Some plants are better suited for the outdoors than others. If they live in an apartment, you should consider whether they have a balcony or outdoor space available for plants.
Smaller indoor plants are perfect for small spaces. They can be incorporated into nearly any type of home décor, as anyone's space will benefit from a bit of green. Even the smallest apartment has a window with some light – and plants benefit the environment around them.
For avid gardeners, an outdoor plant may be a good option. Outdoor plants look right at home on someone's porch or front yard. Larger outdoor plants can be incorporated into landscaping elements as they grow. Additionally, gardeners may appreciate an outdoor plant far more than one to keep inside.
You may even consider gifting them with a tree. Planting a tree is a popular way to memorialize the life of a loved one. Many people incorporate nature and the outdoors in their memorial service. Trees live for decades and some – like varieties of oak trees – can live over a century. It can be comforting to know that something planted as a memorial to someone we love will outlive us all eventually. They are a fitting memorial to anyone’s lost loved one.
Any quick internet search will give you ideas for finding a great house plant suitable for sympathy gifts. What you may not have access to is information on the toxicity of the plants. That is not something everyone has to consider, after all. Many people live in homes with multiple houseplants without any issue at all. It is only when there are indoor pets or small children that it can become an issue.
Some house plants are only mildly toxic to humans, meaning they are perfectly safe to have in your home at any given time. Typically, you only need to worry about toxicity if the plant is ingested (swallowed) by someone. Unfortunately, small children, cats, and dogs are prone to putting non-food items into their mouths.
You probably don't want to intentionally cause a trip to the emergency room, the vet, or worse with your gift. So, it's important to know what plants are completely safe for a pet-friendly home. Here is a list of the most toxic popular house plants that you should avoid gifting to any household where this might be a risk:
Many of these plants are very easy to grow, making them excellent choices for a household without these concerns. They are also toxic to cats, dogs, small humans, or all three. You may want to avoid them if you are gifting to a household with any of these.
This may be the easiest - or the most difficult - tip depending on your relationship with the gift recipient. What do they like? Everyone has preferences, even if they are not knowledgeable about plant care. They may like certain colors more than others or prefer springtime to summer.
You’ll be able to find great options with just these smaller pieces of information. This is especially true of anyone with a green thumb or something who has many plants already.
They may prefer a flowering plant or just like greenery. It helps to know a little about their preferences before you go looking. However, you can likely find enough basic selections that you don’t need too many details to move forward.
Throughout history, many folk cultures and traditions have assigned meaning to plants. They can symbolize anything and everything. Gifting certain flowers and plants for certain occasions gained immense popularity in the Victorian era and has since stayed part of our culture.
While it isn’t entirely important to know the exact meaning of every plant, you may want to avoid sending a plant that is typically associated with saying “Congratulations” to someone after the death of their loved one. Instead, you may want to look at some options commonly associated with grief and sympathy.
For example, peace lilies symbolize the obvious (peace) but also healing, rebirth, and hope. It makes them a popular choice for sympathy gifts. Orchids, on the other hand, mean passing, innocence, and purity. They symbolize loss and are often used to signify the stages of life.
Azaleas, a popular outdoor plant, stand for self-care and temperance when given as a sympathy gift. There are, of course, many other options that hold similar meanings if you search for them.
In modern times, plant meaning isn’t necessarily as important as it might once have been. People often choose plants based on aesthetics instead of meaning. You can look at color or difficulty of care to be just as important as the underlying meaning.
You can send a sympathy plant at any point after someone has passed away, whether it is within the same week or even upon the anniversary of a death. However, you may want to think about where you send it. This can depend on who the plant is for.
If you wish to send a plant to the entire family, then you should consider sending it to the funeral home. That way you can convey your condolences to a group instead of a single person. If you want to send it to a specific person, you likely want to send it to their home (or give it to them in person).
Knowing where to send the plant becomes especially important when you are ordering online. It might be easiest to send it to the funeral home or wherever the ceremony is taking place. That address is typically known to the public and may be found in the deceased’s public obituary.
If you know where the person lives, you may want to bring it to them yourself if possible. That may allow you to check in on the person to see how they are doing. Depending on when you visit, they may not be prepared to host you or feel up to much. However, it will likely make them feel better to know you care. Otherwise, you may ask for their address to send it to them directly if you’d prefer.
When you are buying a plant for another person, try to think about it in practical terms. You may think that the Ficus tree is lovely – but will it fit into someone's 800-square-foot apartment? Like with any gift, you must consider where the giftee will put their gift once they receive it.
For many, a small plant will be preferable to a large one. Small plants are easier to place in a home, especially when finding proper sunlight and space for them. If you don't know what their living situation looks like, then sticking with something midsized is likely your best option.
For that matter, not everyone is gifted with a green thumb. There are many beautiful, exotic plants available for purchase. But would you want to give your friend or loved one a plant that they are not equipped to care for? There are few worse feelings than accidentally killing a plant that you’ve been gifted (especially in this context).
If they are experienced plant lovers, you could get them something they may not already have. But for those who may not have the knowledge to care for a tricky plant, you may want to stick with something simple and difficult to kill. That’s where knowing what kind of plants to get comes in handy.
You may not realize that flora is not always welcome at a funeral. Cultures often have their own funeral practices that may conflict with what we understand as “normal” in our own view. If you want more information about funeral traditions worldwide, check out “A Complete Guide to Funeral & Burial Practices" It’s important to be respectful of these practices, especially when sending a gift. Knowing someone's preferences comes in handy when considering whether or not a plant (or any type of floral arrangement) would be appropriate.
For most Christian denominations (including Roman Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, etc), potted plants and flowers are suitable to send. They are widely accepted gifts and even expected after death.
On the other hand, flowers and plants are not appropriate for Jewish burials. Traditionally, the service is performed by a rabbi within the first 24 hours after the death. Food is a far more appropriate gift to bring in this instance.
If the person (or the deceased) is Buddhist, you can send flora as a gift. However, make sure it is not any red flowering plant. Red is the color of joy in Buddhist culture, making this incredibly inappropriate for them! This is the same for most traditional Chinese families as well. It’s much better to send yellow or white mums or chrysanthemums instead. For Muslim funerals, it depends heavily upon the family andtheir practices. You may wish to reach out to the local religious organization for advice if you have concerns.
While no gift will take away someone's grief after a death, there are ways to make your gift more meaningful. One way to do that is to add a personal element to it. You can do that in one of several ways whether by including a smaller item along with the gift or something else.
You should always include a note of some kind with your gift. If you are close with the person, you may take the time to write a hand-written note to express your care.
It may help the recipient to know that other people are grieving the death of the person. It also helps to know that someone is thinking of them You can perhaps share a memory of the deceased in this letter.
If you aren’t comfortable with writing such personal things (or you didn’t know the deceased well), you can easily purchase a sympathy card from any drugstore (or online). At the very least, you should be sure to put a personal note on the card. If you know the recipient is a private person who may not enjoy long platitudes, a simple “Deepest Sympathies” or “Our thoughts are with you” is a perfectly serviceable way to send a card.
If you know the person is religious (and you are certain they would appreciate the sentiments) then you may offer them prayers as well. Many people find comfort in that. Others do not. You will need to use your best judgment in the situation.
Putting your feelings into words can be hard for even the best wordsmith. There are no perfect words that will ever make grief disappear. The best we can hope is to ease the recipient’s burden even a little bit.
Now that we’ve addressed some tips for choosing a plant, let’s talk about some of the most popular (and attractive) options. You shouldn’t feel tied to any of these choices. However, they may offer a good starting point for your own search.
Orchids: Meaning: faith, innocence, beauty, safety
Because they are easy to care for, orchids are a great gift. They come in many colors, only need a little water, and are beautiful in bloom. However, they typically only bloom for a few months.
Lilies: Meaning: peace, purity of the soul, renewal, rebirth
Palm Plants: Meaning: eternal life, protection, truth, fertility
Palm plants require very little maintenance or effort to keep alive. They can grow large so may not be the best choice for a small apartment.
Philodendron: Meaning: health, abundance, growth
Philodendrons were once considered the green muse of artists. They may make good gifts for anyone with a creative mind. They are especially good indoor plants because they grow in indirect sunlight.
Succulent Plants.: Meaning: tenacity, strength, selflessness
Succulent plants have thick, fleshy tissue adapted to water storage in their leaves. There are many kinds – including cacti – and some are even edible. Most species come from arid reasons. They are very hardy and easy to care for.
Bonsai: Meaning: peace, harmony, balance, and ordered thoughts
Bonsais are tiny trees grown in containers. They often combine horticulture and art, as shaping them is considering a popular hobby in Japan. They are easy to care for and can fit into almost any living space. They are also very long-lived.
Azaleas: Meaning: health, care, temperance, femininity
Azaleas are small flowering plants that bloom in bright colors like pink, orange, and white. They are a very cheerful plant to gift to someone, especially as they can thrive for decades!
Oak Tree: Meaning: strength, longevity, stability
Oak trees are an excellent gift for an outdoor space. They are long-lived, easy to grow, and easily available. People often gift them as a way to memorialize a person, as planting a tree in a person’s name can bring solace as they watch it grow.
Magnolia Tree: Meaning: good fortune, luck
Magnolias are beautiful blooming trees that can grow quite large. Like most outdoor trees, they need minimal care to grow but will need consistent raking in the fall to manage leaf fall!
Rose Bush: Meaning: love (red), friendship (yellow), innocence (white)
While rose bushes are beautiful, they are difficult to maintain. You should only consider this plant as a gift for an experienced gardener.
While plants are a great gift on their own, you may want to combine that gift with another that has some personal significance. If you are very close to the recipient, you may feel that a plant is simply not enough. If that’s the case, there are many types of sympathy gifts you can combine with the plant to make a more meaningful present.
Art can be a great gift for the right kind of person. It can also make a thoughtful memorial gift if you were to commission a piece for someone who has recently lost a loved one.
Usually, an artist will need some reference photographs but should be able to immortalize the person in watercolor, acrylic, or oil paint. Commissioning art is often costly, but the right artist can create something that will stay with someone for their entire life.
If commissioned art is out of your budget, you may want to consider a framed portrait instead. You can select a simple frame – or one dedicated to memorial photos – to put it in. If you match the frame to the pot or container of the selected plant, you can gift them together as a set to be kept together in the person’s home.
Everlasting Memories offers a Commemorative Memorial Portrait that takes a photograph and creates a framed image that mimics the look and texture of an acrylic painting. These portraits add depth to existing images.
Memorial keepsakes are always a great way to commemorate a loved one. Keepsakes come in all shapes and sizes - but the best ones are personalized in some way, generally combining their name, a date, or a special saying. They also make excellent gifts.
One of the most popular memorial keepsakes comes in the form of a piece of jewelry. Personalized jewelry has been gaining popularity over the last decade. It's easy to create a small, stylish piece that compliments someone's wardrobe. With photo-engraved keepsakes, all you need is a photograph of the person to immortalize onto a metal pendant, locket, charm, or keychain.
Something as simple as this Round Photo Engraved Stainless Keepsake combined with a photograph of their loved one (or a family portrait if applicable) makes a one-of-a-kind gift.
If you want to show your sympathy and care for a person's passing, one of the simplest ways to do so is to donate to a cause they care about. Many families and loved ones ask for donations instead of flowers after a person dies. Combining the two is an excellent way to offer a physical gift as well as a more symbolic one.
The deceased person likely had at least one cause they cared about enough to devote time, money, or both to help. Common popular charities involve those helping animals or children. If they were chronically ill, you could consider giving to an organization looking to cure or assist people with that illness or condition.
If you have chosen an outdoor plant or tree, you may want to pair it with a memorial garden stone. These stones are typically engraved with a person's biographical information – their name and date of birth/death are common. Many are also adorned with significant quotes or religious verses.
If you’d prefer, you can buy a small statue that serves the same purpose. You can pick out an animal, angel, or any number of shapes that would be appropriate for the situation. They can be placed near the plant as a marker for the memorial.
Looking for answers to a specific question? Here’s a quick list of frequently asked questions about sympathy plants. Most of these subjects we’ve covered in greater detail elsewhere in the article but are presented here in a shorter format.
The most popular plant to send after a death is the peace lily. Lilies have long been associated with death and funeral practices. They represent purity and peace. The symbolism suggests that the deceased spirit has passed on and is in a state of innocence. They also symbolize sympathy and, perhaps most tellingly, rebirth. However, they are toxic if ingested so should not be in homes with pets or small animals. Other good options include orchids, palm plants, azaleas, or even an oak tree.
While you can send a white flowering plant (like a peace lily), it is not necessary to do so. We do recommend not sending any plant that is too brightly colored, as it may feel inappropriate in the circumstances. Many flowering plants are often pastel or rich, deeper colors. However, if you know the recipient is partial to a particularly bright plant, then you may make an exception.
Yes! Potted plants are an excellent sympathy gift. Plants and flowers are common gifts to give someone who has lost a loved one recently. They can be given to almost anyone, too. Whether you are very close to the person or only an acquaintance, plants are a nice way to show you are thinking of them. Unlike cut flower arrangements or large sympathy wreaths, potted plants live longer and provide something for the person to care for. They are regarded as a thoughtful, eco-friendly gift by most.
This depends on who the plant is for! Avid gardeners or people who own property may prefer an outdoor plant to add to their collection. For anyone living in a smaller apartment (or renting a home), they may want an indoor plant for ease of care and mobility. This would make it easier to take with them if they move. It is also easier to take care of many indoor plants, as many only require water and sunlight to thrive. However, if you know the person enjoys outdoor gardening, you may want to get them something to incorporate into their garden (or set it on their porch!).
If you live near the person you are buying for, the best place to find a good selection of plants is to check out your local florists or seek out a plant nursery. With local businesses, you get access to expert advice and a selection of healthy plants. You can see the quality of the plants for yourself without having to rely on a photo on the internet. However, if you need to send your gift from out of state (or out of the country), you'll likely have the best luck with an online delivery service.
Lilies are the most common flower to represent sorrow, as they symbolize rebirth, renewal, and the restoration of the soul. White lilies are also the most common funeral flower for this reason. Hyacinths also represent sorrow, though they are typically combined with forgiveness and regret.
Chamaecyparis, a member of the Cypress family, is an evergreen dwarf tree that symbolizes mourning, grief, and death. It is often combined with the concept of sacrifice (as it was said to be the material of the original cross in Christ’s crucifixion according to Christian tradition).
While they are cheerful in color, zinnias symbolize remembrance for someone loved and lost through any means. Most are used in positive contexts but white zinnias are a common funeral flower as well.
Not at all. Just as many men as women enjoy indoor plants and outdoor gardening. Just as with any recipient, you will need to put some thought into whether they will ultimately enjoy caring for it.
While we have compiled a list of popular sympathy plants and their meaning in this article, there are many others out there. Many people have written in-depth about the meaning and symbolism of plants over the years. You can easily find a comprehensive list online. You can even visit Wikipedia as a good place to start!
You can send a sympathy plant immediately after hearing about the death of the person. Usually, sympathy flowers and plants are gifted within the first two weeks after the death. However, there is no faux pas by waiting a few weeks after that. You may want to give the family time to handle any issues or plan the funeral before you send along a gift. Take your time choosing just the right plant to send!
Additionally, you may want to send a plant on the anniversary of the death. You may assume that the person may not want to be reminded of the date. However, it’s more likely that they’ve been thinking about it already. Knowing that someone is thinking about them may help them with the difficult day when it comes.
We hope this guide will offer some assistance or alleviate some of your potential stress when buying a sympathy gift for someone you care about. Navigating a death is hard. Being there for someone who is grieving can be challenging in its own way.
No matter what you choose, the recipient – and their family – will appreciate the time and care you took to comfort them in this devastating time.
August 15, 2022 by Frances Kay