Generally speaking, colors in the West that have long been symbols of decadence have been co-opted by historical homosexuals to express their sexuality.
This trope may be expressed through potential lovers giving actual flowers to their lover, but it can also be symbolic. That is, a character could be (1) nicknamed Violet or Lily (or variants such as Viola or Liana, etc.), (2) frequently seen near lavender or violets (etc.), or (3) exceptionally fond of wearing the colors associated with those flowers (e.g. purple, lavender, green). That said, this trope often emphasizes homosexuality or queerness. Thus, Ho Yay may be made actual subtext with this symbolism, but merely the presence of these symbols does not constitute the subtext. Merely being named Violet, for example, does not mean the character is LGBT, and thus would not be an example of this trope without more context.
Subtrope of Flower Motifs and Homoerotic Subtext. A sister trope to Something About a Rose and Fleur de Lis, which concern roses and lilies respectively when they don't symbolize homosexuality. Can be expressed through Flowers of Romance, Garden of Love, Floral Theme Naming, Flowers of Femininity, and Hanahaki Disease. Compare Four-Leaf Clover as a luck symbol. See also The Poppy, which is worn in remembrance for the dead of World War I.
Lavender for Homosexuality
In the West, purple has been associated with royalty since the time of the Romans. From this association, the color became associated with decadence, and it is from this connotation that the color has a connection to homosexuality. Namely, during the time of the Industrial Revolution, the arts were associated with decadence, and the men interested in the arts were viewed as unmanly. The decadent purple was replaced by the paler lavender to symbolize the unmanly interests of the time, and it is a short step from this connection with effeminate men to a connotation of homosexuality.
When the lesbian community used violets as a symbol of pride in the 1920s, they also used lavender to express their protest. It wasn't until the 1950s that the flower, and the color, became firmly associated with the LGBT community at large, only to be replaced by the pink triangle as the most popular symbol for gay pride.
Nowadays, "lavender" is used to directly associate something with homosexuality, such as "lavender linguistics," for the socio-linguistics of the LGBT community, or "lavender graduation," for an LGBT-specific graduation ceremony. The term "lavender revolution" is even synonymous with the gay rights movement.
Violets for Lesbianism
Common violets (Viola sororia) are often associated with lesbians and romantic love between women. This symbol originates from Sappho, who may have used violets frequently in her love poems to women. The scientific name, sororia, derives from the Latin soror, for sister (more here).
The symbol of violets for lesbianism was popularized by the 1926 French play La Prisonniere ("The Captive"), in which a lesbian expresses her love for another woman by leaving nosegays of violets for her. After police shut down the Broadway run of the play, marching onstage in the middle of a performance to arrest the two leads, lesbians and bisexual women began wearing violets in protest.
Lilies for LesbianismWithin the Yuri Genre, lilies symbolize romance between two women. In fact, the word "yuri" (ゆり) translates to "lilies" in English. The term, and therefore the symbol, originates from a 1976 magazine article titled "Yuri." A notable difference between the use of, say, violets and lilies is that "yuri" as a term for lesbianism is a "softer" term than the literal translation of "lesbian" ("lezu") and connotes romance rather than lust.
That said, lilies in Japan symbolize more than one thing, much like roses symbolize different things in English-speaking countries depending on the color and context of the gift. In general, the white lily symbolizes chastity and purity, hence why it might be a softer term for lesbianism.
Green Carnations for Gay MenThe green carnation began as a symbol for Oscar Wilde and his followers. In 1892, he had one of the actors in Lady Windermere's Fan wear a green carnation on opening night, and many of his younger followers wore them as well. There even was a parody of Wilde published in 1894 titled The Green Carnation. It is likely that Wilde chose a green carnation because of his belief that nature ought to imitate art, and not the reverse. Since a green carnation does not come from nature, it embodies the unnatural. This is how the flower implies homosexuality, though Wilde never made such a direct admission.
Roses for Gay MenThe Bara Genre owes its name to the Japanese word for rose, "bara" (ばら). As a symbol for gay men, the rose became popularized by the publication of Barazoku in the early 1970s. However, the idea for the symbol originates in Greek Mythology, specifically deriving from myths of King Laius having affairs with boys under rose trees. "Barazoku" means "rose tribe" and is a slang term for homosexual men, much like how "yurizoku" or "yuri" ("lily tribe" or "lily") is for lesbians.
That said, roses in the West symbolize many things depending on the color and placement of the flower. In general, a rose symbolizes romance, and it should be noted that examples of roses symbolizing anything other than homosexuality are better suited for Something About a Rose.
The Trillium◊ Flower for BisexualitySince 2001, the Mexican bisexual flag◊ uses the trillium flower as its symbol, and Michael Page, in 1999, suggested using it for this purpose as well. This flower belongs to the same family as the lily, and scientists first used the word "bisexual" in reference to these flowers — what with their having both male and female sex organs.
- The title of the manga, Dandelion Among Lilies, references how lesbianism is associated with lily flowers.
- In Miyuki-chan in Wonderland, Miyuki runs across two anthropomorphic flowers, Lily and Violet, frolicking in the grass. Lily has white hair, lingerie that looks more like bandages, and wears lilies in her hair. Violet has purple hair and a purple corset, both decked with little violets. They ask Miyuki to join them.
- Maiden Rose:
- Taki and Klaus are a gay couple and their relationship is full of flower symbolism. One of which is the rose.
- The symbol of Taki's division is a three-leaf rose. Taki is also the current shinka, or "flower of the Emporer," and is therefore the titular "maiden rose" represented in his family crest and his military division. Moreover, Taki is mysteriously followed by the scent of flowers.
- Klaus's family has traditionally gardened roses for generations, and the men of his family feel a calling for a "flower," without which they are incomplete. However, none of the men have found this "flower" due to a broken promise. Klaus outright states that he has given up everything in pursuit of Taki specifically because Taki is the "flower" of his family myth.
- The English title of Kiss and White Lily for My Dearest Girl is "A Kiss and a White Lily for Her" and white lilies are featured prominently. Meanwhile Yukina and Towako's arc focuses on red roses rather than lilies, unlike all the other lesbian couples in the story.
- One Psychic Squad episode is a general Yuri Genre parody, and a vase of white lilies prominently shows up in multiple shots.
- Revolutionary Girl Utena uses roses to depict the love and relationships between a heavily queer(-coded) cast. Anthy is a sapphic woman who is called the Rose Bride and is betrothed to Utena, another girl, and their relationship is described as "looking like a lily."
- In Yuri Kuma Arashi (Lily Bear Love, popularly translated as "Lesbian Bear Storm"), most of the characters are sapphic women (though many of them are in denial about it). The story focuses on the protagonist Kureha's determination to win back her dead/disappeared girlfriend Sumika, but ends up in a complicated Love Triangle with Anti Villains Ginko and Lulu. Lillies are absolutely everywhere: in the opening, in random shots, and notably in the garden that Kureha and Sumika meet.
- YuruYuri, or Lazy Lily, follows Akari and her childhood friends. Every one of them is a lesbian.
- Mother Panic's protagonist, Violet Paige, is bisexual.
- Invoked in the case of Wonder Man and Beast. When Wonder Man returns from the dead again in the pages of the Busiek/Perez Avengers, Beast shows up with a bouquet of roses, tackles him, and gives him a sloppy kiss on the lips.◊ In an issue of Marvel's Alternate Universe Exiles, the team's Alterna-Beast chooses not to return to his own universe because, with his lover Wonder Man dead, there was nothing left for him there.
- In the Jem fan-comic Not So Glamorous Life, Stormer gives her crush Kimber a violet. The writer mentions using this trope.
- Bound (1996) stars a closeted lesbian named Violet.
- Velvet Goldmine, a professionally published Real-Person Fic about 1970s glam-rock figures, heavily uses green carnation symbolism for gay or bisexual men.
- Inverted in the case of the characters Rose and Mindy in the David Cronenberg film Rabid, who have a mild romance between them. Mindy is determined to take care of Rose, and even stripped Rose naked when she was ill, and suggests she takes a hot bath. For Rose's part, she was vehemently against Mindy being her next victim, even before she realized it was lethal.
- In Violet & Daisy, the titular characters' relationship is that of a couple rather than merely a murderous partnership. While they're platonic, it may be a hint that one or both feels (or could feel) something more.
- In Hot Fuzz, the relevant lines and peace lily plotline originally meant for a cut female love interest were given to Danny. At the beginning of the film, Nicholas's ex-girlfriend complains he's Married to the Job and he'll someday find someone to open up to. This ends up being Danny, who gets Nicholas to loosen up, drink, laugh, and watch action movies. Danny is instantly a fanbody of Nicholas, staying loyal to him to the point of defying his own father. Word of God says the romantic implications were deliberate.
- The Celluloid Closet: An example from a 60's film is discussed, when along with some camp behavior a male character gets coded as gay by mentioning that he's placed violets in his kitchen (usually it's been used for lesbians, but it still fits).
- Sappho's poetry is the Ur-Example, specifically using violets for romance between women. She would make reference to a girl or woman "with violets in her lap" as a metaphor for homosexual romance.
- One of Emily Dickinson's most famous poems about Susan Gilbert refers to violets lying in her eye.
Still in her Eye
The Violets lie
- A seminal work of lesbian literature is Stone Butch Blues, in which the lesbian couple Edna and Butch Jan eventually open a flower shop together named Blue Violets. When Jess visits them, she first sees Jan "bent over a crate of violets."
- In The Bell Jar, Esther suspects that her mannish editor Jay Cee is a lesbian, paranoid at one point that she is trying to "convert" her. Jay Cee's office is full of fake plants including African violets which Esther makes special mention of, and in her first appearance she is dressed in purple with purple flowers on her hat.
- In Violets For My Lesbian Lover (on Watt Pad here), the protagonist (named Violet) woos her crush Audrey by giving her her favorite flower, violets, every day.
- Wet Violets: Sappho's Corner Poetry Series is a "collection of lesbian love poetry in honor of Sappho, the Greek poetess of the isle of Lesbos, by contemporary female poets from around the world."
- When Oscar Wilde was put to trial for gross indencency, Robert Hichens' The Green Carnation was used against him. The main characters of the book are obvious expies of Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas.
- The Japanese magazine Barazoku which ran from 1971 to 2008. It popularized the term "rose tribe" and "lily tribe" for gay men and women respectively.
- In Garry Kilworth's second Welkin Weasels trilogy, it's implied that Maudlin and Scruff have a romantic interest in one another. They share beds in the second book — with Maudlin's cowardice being pretext — and there is reference to them perching on the front rail of a ship reminiscent of a similar romantic scene in Titanic (1997). Maudlin is Ambiguously Gay, and at one point he asks about "Lillie" Longtree's female-impersonator career "with a touch of envy in his voice."
- Lesbian poet Renee Vivien was nicknamed the "Muse of the Violets" because of her heavy use of this flower, whether in her life or her poetry. Her first love was Violet Shillito.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, Loras Tyrell is known as the Knight of Flowers, and his armor is adored with the sigil of his house, the rose. He's the first of the Tyrells shown in the series, and his homosexuality is eventually revealed to the audience, with the rose imagery being the first implication that he's gay.
- Santiago Nights is a yuri novel whose main protagonist is Lily Oda, a proud lesbian gangster.
- Sexiled: My Sexist Party Leader Kicked Me Out So I Teamed Up With A Mythical Sorceress! is a yuri Light Novel that focuses on the relationship between Tanya Artemiciov and the legendary sorceress Laplace, who form an adventuring party together after Tanya is kicked out of her old one. When they're sent a thank you letter from a girl who they helped, Tanya decides to name the new party "Lilium" after the flower she sends along with her thanks.
- From the same author of Sexiled, A Lily Blooms In Another World is a yuri Light Novel about Miyako, a woman reincarnated as the protagonist of her favorite otome game who only has eyes for the "villainess" Fuuka Hamilton. When Miyako proposes the idea of running away together, she thinks about how she wishes she could give her a lily to put in her black hair. She is eventually able to, and the epilogue reveals that the two are living happily together and Fuuka is working on cultivating the flower, fulfilling the title of the book in more ways than one.
- In The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, the "Gay Mage" archetype will be wearing perfume that's described by what it's made from (i.e, sandalwood); the scents of other perfumed characters will be described in more vague, artificial terms (i.e, "cloying" or "exotic"). The orientations of the latter are not mentioned, hinting that gay = flowers.
- Glee: In "New Directions", Brittany surprises Santana with a roomful of calla lilies, which she deems "the lesbian of flowers", and plane tickets to the island of Lesbos.
- In Veronica Mars, Lilly is implied to be bisexual. In an Alternate Timeline where she wasn't killed, her boyfriend in college breaks up with her for fooling around with his ex-girlfriend. Meanwhile, she open-mouth kisses Veronica in the show's timeline, and Lilly tries to get Veronica to dress more provocatively at least once.
- Schitt's Creek: Pansexual Japanophile David Rose names his store Rose Apothecary, the logo of which is two Roses and which he runs with his boyfriend, later husband, Patrick. He's seen bringing flowers to Patrick for his birthday and carries a rose bouquet at his wedding to Patrick.
- Eleanor Clare's album of "lesbian covers" is called with violets in her lap.
- Cole Porter's 1929 song "I'm a Gigolo" in which he says he has a dash of lavender and that he can be found next to a passionless dowager.
- The 1939 Vernon Dalhart version of "The Lavender Cowboy" was banned for the homosexual subtext of the unmanly cowboy who was "inwardly troubled / By a dream that gave him no rest." The poem — and therefore the song — also makes a Shout-Out to "Red Nellie's Honor," a tale of a woman saved by a hairy masculine man.
- The 1973 album "Lavender Country" by the band of the same name. It was the first openly gay country album and was archived in the Nashville Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.
- "Lavender Jane Loves Women" is a 1973 Alix Dobkin song. Dobkin was the first openly lesbian country singer with an openly lesbian album.
- Spoken Violets is the name of a podcast hosted by multicultural lesbian art and literature journal Sinister Wisdom.
- 1926's The Captive (La Prisonniere in French) was one of the first major Broadway plays to deal with lesbianism. It's infamous both due to its role in leading to the Wales Padlock Act (an obscenity law banning depictions of homosexuality on Broadway) and because it helped boost violet sales. In it, the protagonist Irene is engaged to a man but tortured by her love for a woman called Madame d'Aiguines. D'Aiguines is never seen in the play, instead represented through the bunches of violets she leaves behind for Irene.
- Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is a play about crossdressing and sexual confusion, and Lady Olivia falls in love with a young man without realizing he's actually a woman in disguise. The disguised woman's name is Viola, which is Latin for "violet."
- The English title of Les Feluettes is Lilies, rather than the transliterated "the wusses" or "the pansies," and prominently features a gay Love Triangle. Its opera and film adaptations follow this titling.
- The Walking Dead has a lesbian character named Violet. She frequently wears purple.
- Luigi and Prince Peasley in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. Peasley gives Luigi a rose for easy access to the castle, saying "It suits your green," with Luigi twirling with delight at the gift. Luigi later blushes when Peasley strikes him with a sword upon acceptance of a bet, and overall, Prince Peasley interacts with Luigi more than Mario.
- Inverted with Radiant Historia's Kiel and Stocke. Kiel has a crush on a masculine woman named Viola, a name meaning violet, and he admits his affection for Stocke because of his crush on Viola. When he's being teased for his crush on Field Marshall Viola, he admits that there's one person he admires more, namely Stocke. For the characters teasing him, the surprising part of this admission is not that he has affection for Stocke but rather that he actually said it aloud.
- In GrimGrimoire, Amoretta's first meeting with Lillet seems to show her developing a "girl crush" on the heroine, even saying "I like your smile. Can I touch it?" with Lillet nervously letting her do so. It's explicitly established that Amoretta, her name meaning "little love," only lives because Lillet's love sustains her. Near the end game, they sort of wind up together, and they actually live together in the post-game epilogue.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, Leliana is canonically bisexual. Her name is a variant of Liana, which comes from Lillian, which in turn comes from the Latin for "lily."
- Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory: The Relationship Values between every pair of playable characters are referred to as "lily points." This started a trend continued in pretty much every game in the series released after that, which usually gets a Lampshade Hanging at least once a game (though it often gets Lost in Translation).
- In Katawa Shoujo, Lilly and Hanako are very close. Lilly was Hanako's only friend for years, and Hanako effectively idolizes Lilly. Meanwhile, Lilly displays a level of comforting warmth around Hanako that surpasses the motherly instincts she has around other students. The two of them get a Sleep Cute moment on a train. To top it off, during Lilly's route when she explains to Hanako that she's in a relationship with Hisao, Hanako delivers an "I Want My Beloved to Be Happy" speech.
- Lily's Garden: Regina and Lily strike up a close friendship very quickly. By the end of the first month, Regina is contemplating leaving her husband, telling Lily she loves her "jokingly," and she asks Lily to say the same back. They also dance together.
- A Little Lily Princess retells the story of A Little Princess with a Yuri Genre twist, has a lot of lily imagery, and it added the word "Lily" to the title referencing the Yuri Genre.
- Moonrise: in this sapphic werewolf interactive novel, the three love interests are associated with queer-coded flowers. Rosario smells of lavender and honey; Chika, of violets and ivory soap; and Ishara, of roses.
- Rose of Homestuck:
- Rose and Kanaya start a relationship with one another, and even though Kanaya's species has no concept of "homosexuality" (or "heterosexuality" for that matter), it is specifically stated by the creator that Kanaya is a lesbian.
- Rose flirts with various alien ladies, such as Meenah, throughout the webcomic.
- The desktop image on Rose's computer is of a sexy tentacle lady.
- Lily Love is a Yuri Genre-inspired webcomic whose title references the lesbian association with lilies.
- Not particular species of flowers, but in Heartstopper, there are a couple prominent instances in which Nick reaches a turning point about his sexuality, and he's framed with a profusion of flowers; for example, when Charlie asks him if he would kiss him, and when he tells his mother he's bisexual. When he tells Charlie he loves him, he's surrounded by leaves. The artist often uses scattered flowers or leaves as decorations throughout the series, but they're especially prominent at these moments.
- Vampires & Violets: Lesbians in Film by Andrea Weiss discusses how violets have been used in cinema to represent lesbianism.
- In Japanese since at least the 1970s, "barazoku" and "yurizoku" have been used to refer to gay men and women respectively, with "yuri" being less offensive than the more literal term for lesbian ("lezu").
- In the 1920s, "violet" was an American slang term used to refer to gay people, but especially so lesbians.
- The Mexican bisexual flag uses a purple trillium flower over a white field surrounded on either side by pink and blue fields.
- The use of the word lavender as an adjective typically denotes something related to LGBT culture or groups. Specific examples would include the "lavender revolution," which was synonymous with the gay rights movement, and "lavender linguistics," which is the branch of socio-linguistics that looks at how LGBT groups speak.
- To refer to someone having a "dash of lavender" or "streak of lavender" is to say that they are gay.
- The Lavender Scare, an extension of the Red Scare. McCarthy and his followers led a witch hunt to expel all LGBT people from the United States government under the pretense that they were more vulnerable to blackmail from communist infiltrators. It didn't occur to any of them that their targets wouldn't be vulnerable to blackmail if laws at the time didn't force them to keep their sexuality a secret in the first place. Also their vulnerability in this regard was overstated, the Soviet Union was just as bad in terms of queer rights. Of the Communist countries at the time, only East Germany and Vietnam had legalized homosexuality. Both countries also included at least some protections for trans people. Homosexuality was also technically legal in China as a result of having never been made illegal, but the Chinese Communist Party took a rather dim view of it and did very little to protect LGBT people.
- The Lavender Panthers, a group active in San Francisco from 1973 to 1974. Reverend Raymond Broshears was tired of police being useless when it came to Homophobic Hate Crimes, so he founded an armed vigilante group that patrolled the streets at night with the aim of stopping hate crimes in process.