Royal Symbols

By Matthew C. Pace

Jun 29 2022

Plants have been employed as royal symbols through time and across cultures. 2022 marks the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, making her the longest-lived and longest-reigning British monarch, the longest-serving female head of state, and the longest-reigning current monarch, with a reign of 70 years. From flowers that appear on coats of arms, to wood used to make royal regalia, here is a selection of plants associated with monarchies from across the globe.

Iris pseudacorus. The inspiration for the fleur-de-lis. Most closely associated with the former monarchy of France, the fleur-de-lis is a common symbol for European monarchies, and is often represented on crowns, including Saint Edward's Crown and the Imperial State Crown of the UK. The House of Bourbon, currently including the King of Spain and Grand Duke of Luxembourg, is represented by three fleurs-de-lis on a field of royal blue.

Chrysanthemum. The Chrysanthemum is featured on the Imperial Seal of Japan (also known as the Chrysanthemum Seal, 菊紋), and the term “chrysanthemum throne” refers to the actual throne and the emperor himself.

Cytisus scoparius. The emblem of Geoffrey of Anjou, the Plantagenet royal family, which reigned in England from 1154 to 1485, took their name from this plant, known as planta genista in Latin, and adopted it as their symbol. In France, Charles V and Charles VI also used the fruit of C. scoparius as a royal emblem.

Rosa gallica. During the mid- to late 1400’s, the English War of the Roses was fought between two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: Lancaster (symbolized by the Red Rose, Rosa gallica) and York (symbolized by the White Rose). The Red and White Roses where combined to create the Tudor Rose, symbol of the subsequent Tudar Dynasty, and the Tudor Rose continues to be a principal element of many Royal symbols in the UK, including the badge of the Yeomen of the Guard and the Royal coat of arms.

Cinnamomum cassia. The Royal Staff, one of the Five Regalia of the King of Thailand (Than Phra Kon, ธารพระกร), is made from gilt Cinnamomum cassia wood. The Royal Staff symbolizes the guiding of the king's footsteps down the path of justice and equity.

Quercus robur. The future King Charles II of England hid in a Q. robur tree (English oak) to escape his pursuers following the Battle of Worcester in 1651. After the restoration of the monarchy, this event was commemorated on 29 May, known as Restoration Day or Oak Apple Day. The actual tree that sheltered Charles II, known as Royal Oak, died in the 1700’s, although the site is still marked by a mature seedling of the original, known as Son of Royal Oak. Quercus robur is still planted to mark milestones of British Monarchs, including the Platinum Jubilee.

Algae. The Twelve Ornaments (十二章) are a group of ancient Chinese symbols and designs that are considered highly auspicious. According to the Book of Documents, the legendary Emperor Shun wished for the symbols to be used on official robes of the state; only the Emperor was allowed to wear all Twelve Ornaments on a single garment. As one of the 12, algae (藻) symbolizes brightness and purity. 

Punica granatum. The pomegranate first appeared on the coat of arms for the Kingdom of Granada, and is also included on the coat of arms of Spain, the official coat of arms for the Spanish Monarchy.

A Closer Look

Pastoureau, Michel. 1997. Heraldry: Its Origins and Meaning. 'New Horizons' series. Translated by Garvie, Francisca. London: Thames & Hudson. p. 98. ISBN 0-500-30074-7.

Williams, C.A.S. 2012. Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs Fourth Revised Edition: A Comprehensive Handbook on Symbolism in Chinese Art Through the Ages. Tuttle Publishing. pp. 386–388. ISBN 978-1-4629-0314-6.

"Chrysanthemum Throne". Wikipedia. (Accessed 14 June 2022)

"Royal Oak". Wikipedia. (Accessed 14 June 2022)

"Royal Regalia". Geocities. Archived from the original on 27 October 2009. Retrieved 10 November 2016. (Accessed 14 June 2022)