What Are Greece’s National Flower and National Tree?

Greece’s National Flower

Each country or nation has a flower or floral representation in the world. This flower usually represents a significant element of that nation, either with regards to their history or their produce, or their culture. Knowing the significance of that flower gives unique insights to the people that hold it as their symbol.

Greece has not one, but several symbolic flowers, thanks to the millennia old heritage and history through which these flowers were ascribed a high importance and meaning. While none have been officially adopted, there are some that are so deeply associated with Greece they may as well have been!

The most iconic and recognizable of those are:

The violet

Fritz Geller-Grimm, CC BY-SA 2.5 , via Wikimedia Commons

The violet was the symbolic flower of Ancient Athens. There are many reasons for this. In ancient Greek, the violet is called “ion” which also happens to be the name of the legendary figure credited with founding Athens, Ion. Ion was leading his people, seeking a place for them to stay, when nymphs greeted him with violets, showing him the auspicious place for a new city, and that is where Athens was founded and built!

Violets, therefore, symbolize both Athens’ founder and Athens herself. Pindar, the ancient Greek lyric poet from Thebes, calls Athens “the city of the violet crown”. That’s because, during dawn and sunset, the dust and low humidity in Athens’ atmosphere made the light look purplish, in effect crowning the city in violet. You can still experience the effect today in clear days!

As Athens became Greece’s capital, the violet became one of Greece’s flower symbols.

Bear’s Breech

Bear’s Breech in the columns

Bear’s Breech is known by several names around the world, such as Oyster Plant and Bear’s Foot. Scientifically it’s called Acanthus Mollis and it is the second flower symbolizing Greece. In Greek, the name used is “akanthos” from where the scientific name is derived.

The most common place you will find depictions of Bear’s Breech is in the ornate, famous Corinthian Style columns, where the flower’s lush leaves form the distinctive, iconic pattern.

 Bears breech - Greece's national flower
Bears breech

Bear’s Breech carries very heavy symbolism. It has been used throughout Greece’s lengthy history and is often seen in funerary decorations as well as temples. Bear’s Breech is associated with wealth as a design. Even fair Helen of Troy has been described as wearing a dress decorated with Bear’s Breech embroidery.

Bear’s Breech symbolizes longevity and immortality. That’s why it is most frequently mentioned as Greece’s national flower, symbolizing the endurance of Greece through the eons and the perseverance of the Greek nation that keeps on living despite adversity.

Greece’s National Plant / Tree

Plants can be as symbolic as flowers. They have specific qualities or uses that can be matched to values, dreams, and even entire peoples. That’s why many countries have national plants. They are linked to their history, cultural heritage, or produce. National plants can be found in iconic images and decorations meant to allude to the particular nation, and even in some flags or crests.

Greece has two national plants, both of which have been handed down over several generations through the millennia of Greece’s history.

The laurel

laurel

If you look at the coat of arms of Greece, you will see the laurel. The laurel has always been prominent in Greece, from antiquity to the present. It is with laurels that the winners of the Olympic games were crowned, and it was Apollo’s symbolic plant.

Laurels were believed to have great spiritual powers of cleansing and enhancement for the mind and body. That’s why they were given both to the athletes in the Olympic games and to the acclaimed poets the Ancient Greeks wished to honor.

Portrait of the stone statue of greek philosopher Xenophon wearing a laurel

As the centuries passed, laurels became associated with glory and honor but also eternal endurance and eternal fame. That’s why the laurel came to symbolize all of Greece, for the nation’s endurance and Greece’s eternal fame and honor as one of the founders of western civilization and a proud warring people of defense and valor.

The olive tree and olive branch

The olive tree has been deeply symbolic for Greece as far back as the laurel. Its special significance is rooted in the ancient legend of how Athens got her name- the famous contest between the gods Athena and Poseidon, seeking to win the patronage of the city: before the dwellers, the gods competed by displaying the gifts they would give to the city if the dwellers voted for them.

Poseidon threw his trident to the ground and a geyser of water sprang. Athena dug in her spear and from that spot sprang up an olive tree, ready and heavy with ripe olives. The city dwellers voted for Athena, and thus the city was named Athens, with Athena becoming the city’s patron goddess.

The olive tree symbolizes peace, mercy, and sustenance. Such is the connection of the plant to the symbolism that in Greek, the word for mercy is derived from the word for ‘olive’.

The olive tree and olive branch are the symbols of Greece, to signify the nation’s wish for peace and the importance the Greeks ascribe to hospitality and mercy.

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