Flower language in Land of the Lustrous

The world of the Lustrous is beautiful and sparse. Located on an island that resembles a curved paintbrush smear, the Lustrous were the only beings suited for such an inhospitable environment, or so their creation story says. Their only requirement is sunlight.

With so few living things in their world, Land of the Lustrous gives strong billing to what little flora and fauna still exist. Nearly all of them are used as visual storytelling aids, the most obvious being the butterflies that pop up at different moments during lead gem Phosphophyllite’s (Phos) transformation. The trees in their world are dead, but flowers are peppered throughout the series’ landscape similar to Phos’ butterflies, adding further depth to the gems’ plight.

The first flower that appears is an inconspicuous dandelion seed that lodges in Phos’ hair. We never see the dandelion in the field where they were napping, but the pesky seed sticks to Phos even after they adjust their hair in a nearby pond and only leaves when Master Kongou blows gently on their hair.

Dandelions carry a variety of meanings, most involving wishes or wish fulfillment. Rudimentary fortune-telling or wish-making is done with dandelion seeds, which are then blown into the winds. They can also represent parting or separation. At this point, Phos is still looking for a purpose. They don’t have a job, and presume that they will join the ranks of the other gems in fighting Lunarians when Kongou calls for them. Instead, he blows the seed from their hair and tells Phos that he finally has a job for them.

To Phos in that moment, their dreams are about to come true. They’ll finally fight, which is something they’ve wanted for a while, despite being ill-suited for fighting and, more generally, irresponsible. Phos’ wish is granted, but the job they receive is that of compiling an encyclopedia. Rather than accepting this, Phos pushes back every step of the way until they undergo a dramatic transformation after a tragedy. This season of Land of the Lustrous is all about Phos finding their purpose — thereby granting their wish — but not in the way that they anticipate. Separation, including memory loss and distancing themselves from others, are part of this, and it all begins in that meeting with Kongou.

After Phos is assigned their encyclopedia task and sets out to find Cinnabar, they visit an assortment of locales — most of which will come to have meaning to Phos later in the series — before standing in a field of purple flowers that appear to be lavender.

The lavender flower represents refinement and grace, but also faithfulness. Phos’ immediate faithfulness to Cinnabar, even when Cinnabar actively pushes them away, becomes a driving force behind Phos’ eventual transformation. When Phos briefly forgets their relationship with Cinnabar in later episodes, it’s a stunning moment, one of the saddest in the series. Land of the Lustrous ends with Phos teaming up with Cinnabar, fulfilling their promise of faithfulness made in the first episode.

Phos’ first physical interaction with Cinnabar is stepping over a puddle of their poison, which has accidentally killed a butterfly. Butterflies in Land of the Lustrous carry the common message of transformation, and here they are paired with small white flowers that resemble lily of the valley.

Lily of the valley means a return to happiness or a promise of happiness. In this moment, Cinnabar is lonely, and drives everyone away from them. Both Cinnabar and Phos are in stasis — Phos, yet to transform, and Cinnabar, without Phos’ promise of a new job — like the dead butterfly. Lily of the valley is also pretty but poisonous, reminiscent of Cinnabar’s own poison.

When Phos questions Kongou’s decision to give Cinnabar the meaningless job of patrolling at night, he apologizes to Phos, telling them that he has yet to find something more substantial. He also reveals that the night watch was Cinnabar’s own idea, despite him telling them that living was enough. While he tells Phos of Cinnabar’s decision, their hand is shown reaching towards hydrangeas*, which are later shown dead in the flower boxes at the window in their room.

Hydrangeas are common in Japanese flower language and appear frequently in anime. They are identified with pride or an apology.

Kongou is prideful. He reveals little to the gems, yet oversees their development, part teacher and part father. Phos, and we as the viewing audience, know little about his true intentions, but his failure to find meaningful work for Cinnabar likely wears on him, at the very least, as a small part of their world that he cannot fix.

There’s also the more obvious association with Cinnabar’s pride. Cinnabar is one of the most prideful gems in the series. Forcibly removing themselves before they could become a danger to others fits in well with Cinnabar’s caring nature. Accepting a “job” to cover up their kindness is another important facet of their personality. Cinnabar doesn’t want to be pitied by anyone. The ruse of the night patrol, even if both they and the other gems know that the job isn’t necessary, allows Cinnabar to protect their pride.

*I’m leaving the hydrangea section up as part of the original post, and my personal mistake, but Blue Variance in the comments section pointed out that these are more likely geraniums. Looking at the budding and leaf structure I agree with this, so I’m sorry for the mistake.

Geraniums sometimes have an odd meaning in flower language. Although they’re frequently given as gifts, they can have an implication that you’re calling someone foolish or stupid. In Japan specifically, they’re known as social plants. White geraniums can mean disbelief or simple indecision.

In separating from the rest of the gems and starting the nightly patrol out of pride, Cinnabar is being a bit foolish. They don’t have enough faith in the love of others, including Kongou, but believe in that same love (and later Phos) enough to wait for them to come up with a different plan or career. Cinnabar is an indecisive character. Kongou is also indecisive here. He doesn’t know what to do with Cinnabar and, if he’s to be believed, accepts Cinnabar’s suggestion to effectively quarantine themselves under the guise of patrolling the island at night in order to help them save face.

Lotus flowers, and flower petals, appear with every iteration of the Lunarians and is one of many Buddhist symbols in Land of the Lustrous. The most striking example accompanies Phos’ transformation on the Chord Shore, where a gold/platinum alloy synergizes with the rest of their body despite its weight.

This is Phos’ most dramatic transformation and it comes in the form of a lotus flower, which is also the seat of the Buddha, a sacred flower meaning enlightenment or rising from suffering (among many other spiritual meanings). In Japanese hanakotoba, the lotus flower can also mean distance from a loved one.

At every major point of suffering in Phos’ life, they receive another modification to their body. Here, Phos has just witnessed Antarcticite’s shattering. They appear in the center of a lotus bloom before directing the gold alloy to retaliate. Phos hasn’t reached enlightenment, but they have reached a greater understanding of the suffering that comes with the Lunarian conflict.

At first I thought these yellow flowers pictured at the beginning of spring were daffodils or narcissus, but they lack the bell-shaped center. They most resemble yellow day lilies, and appear at Phos’ feet during one of their last winter patrols.

Phos takes over Antarcticite’s post after the latter is shattered and stolen by the Lunarians. They also change their appearance to resemble Antarcticite — short hair, gold heels — and adopt a serious demeanor. The yellow day lilies herald the arrival of this new Phos to the viewer, and likely represents a new beginning along with filial devotion (in this case to Kongou, who Antarcticite tells Phos to look after). Day lily flowers are also short-lived (a day) although the plants themselves are perennial wildflowers. Gems in Land of the Lustrous cannot die — they can’t even readily transform, Phos is a rare exception — but their bodies can be shattered and taken, making them, in a way, short-lived.

Another flower that Land of the Lustrous associates with Antarcticite is a white, six-petaled flower that appears to be a spider lily or another day lily. Red spider lilies are funeral flowers in Japanese culture and are said to symbolize loss, abandonment, or an inability to meet again. White spider lilies as a gift carry a meaning of sweetness.

Phos places this flower at Antarcticite’s foot, the only remaining piece of their body that the Lunarians didn’t take, and tells the gem about her day. In shattering, Antarcticite has become a leader for Phos, a way for Phos to verbalize everything that has happened to them. The flower is almost an offering to Antarcticite’s life, with Phos carrying out a ritual similar to what a family member would do for the death of a loved one.

Diamond (Dia) is one of the more tragic characters in Land of the Lustrous. It’s their advice to Phos that helps inspire Phos’ transformation, yet they are unable to transform themselves due to the gems’ rigid hardness scale and fixed careers. Phos is an exception. Dia is the rule, despite their innermost desires, born of inferiority to their fighting partner, Bort.

Dia knows this, and continues to provide advice to those around them, keeping a cheery disposition through their sadness. When post-transformation Phos teams up with Bort, Dia tells Phos to take care of Bort. Phos awkwardly calls Bort weird, provoking a lecture from Dia on Bort’s best qualities. Dia loves Bort, but also feels inadequate when compared with them. This is only exacerbated by Bort’s overprotectiveness.

Phos and Bort set out on patrol together the next day. Dia watches them leave while picking small purple bellflowers resembling Japanese bellflowers (kikyou). These flowers represent eternal love, honesty, and feelings reciprocated.

“I’m glad we split up. From afar, I see just how much you mean to me.”

These are Dia’s words after fighting a Lunarian alone and losing. As Bort stands over Dia, horrified, Dia admits that those feelings of insecurity from being paired with Bort for so long obfuscated their true feelings for Bort. Bort admits the same. Dia is still unable to physically change, but their love for Bort is both vocalized and reciprocated.

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9 comments

  1. Nice overview of the flower symbolism in Land of the Lustrous! I didn’t catch all of them while watching the series, especially the dandelion seed at the beginning of the series, and the connection between Phos’ gold/platinum alloy transformation and the lotus! Visually, there’s so much to look at and notice in the details of the setting… And, those butterflies…

    A couple comments:
    I thought the flower identified as hydrangea might actually be geranium? I’m looking at the leaf shape in particular. In flower language, geraniums mean “respect”, “trust”, and “true friendship”. White geraniums in particular mean “I do not believe in your love” or “indecision”. I think this flower would also fit nicely into the meaning of the situation, with Phos’ concern for her friend, Kongou’s inability (indecision?) to find a suitable job for Cinnabar, and Cinnabar’s lack of trust in Kongou’s love (or conversely, respect or trust in Kongou in accepting the meaningless job without complaint).

    My initial thought was that the yellow flowers associated with the loss of Antarcticite are crocuses? I found them hard to identify! (Also, the white 6-petaled flower! It didn’t fit any flowers I could think of!) The general meaning of crocuses is “earnest desire/longing for”, “joy of youth” or specifically yellow ones mean “trust in me”. Ah, this episode was so beautiful with longing and sadness. Definitely one of my favourites from the series…

    1. I thought the flower identified as hydrangea might actually be geranium? I’m looking at the leaf shape in particular. In flower language, geraniums mean “respect”, “trust”, and “true friendship”. White geraniums in particular mean “I do not believe in your love” or “indecision”. I think this flower would also fit nicely into the meaning of the situation, with Phos’ concern for her friend, Kongou’s inability (indecision?) to find a suitable job for Cinnabar, and Cinnabar’s lack of trust in Kongou’s love (or conversely, respect or trust in Kongou in accepting the meaningless job without complaint).

      I’m going to add this to the original post and credit you, so thank you. My mind automatically went to hydrangea but I think you’re right looking at the leaf and the bud shape.

      My initial thought was that the yellow flowers associated with the loss of Antarcticite are crocuses? I found them hard to identify!

      My mind went to daffodils and then crocuses (growing up, they were also the two first flowers to bloom, even in snowmelt). Crocuses bud differently though, which is why I settled on day lilies. There were actually a lot of flowers featured that I couldn’t pinpoint, like the pink/purple trumpet-shaped ones that Phos picks berries from.

    1. Dia's flower bouquet

      Dia's flower bouquet Land of the Lustrous

      Honestly, there could be an entire post on Dia’s bouquet alone (and the manner in which Dia distributes the flowers in a vase). I had already uploaded some of these screenshots, so sorry for the long comment response, but here goes. (Also I don’t know what the spoiler included was in your original text, but I’ll assume it’s on Bort and Phos teaming up.)

      The first thing Dia says is “Bort is never wrong” while placing the aforementioned bellflower discussed in this post into the vase first.

      Dia then follows this up with “and always, always makes the right choice” while putting what I first thought were irises, but could also be amaryllis and (I’m not sure on this) cosmos and a buttercup. Irises carry a meaning of loyalty (Dia is always loyal to Bort, some might say to a fault). Amaryllis means pride, but also shyness (specifically in Japan) which also fits Dia’s actions in this scene. Dia truly loves Bort but also won’t admit her sadness/jealousy that Bort and Phos partnered up. Again, I’m not certain that the small pink/purple flowers are cosmos, they also resemble the buttercup structure although the buttercup is yellow in color. Cosmos mean “a maiden’s heart” or love. Buttercups represent humility or a childish nature.

      Before Dia says “Sometimes . . . I almost hate it” they place a daisy or aster (depending on whether you see this flower as white or purple) and a dandelion into the vase. Daisies also represent childishness or a return to innocence/childhood. Asters have a meaning of remembrance or a wish that things happened differently (when used as funeral flowers, especially) as well as patience, daintiness, and love.

      Dandelions can mean wish fulfillment as well as separation. Here Dia is separated from Bort and admitting that Bort’s perfection (again this is in Dia’s eyes, Bort isn’t actually perfect as this episode points out) bothers them. Dia struggles with their inability to change, especially after Phos begins transforming, and also feels inferior to Bort.

      The full bouquet also includes thistle (as you pointed out) which can indicate bravery and devotion. Thistles are notoriously hardy and difficult to pick, so this has given them meanings of strength and determination in overcoming great obstacles (like Dia’s inner struggle with jealousy). There’s a fuzzy purple flower stalk that reminds me more of a purple veronica stalk than lavender or something more common, but I unfortunately can’t place it. T_T

  2. One of my blogging/writing role models linked one of my posts. It’s a slight understatement to say I’m flattered.

    I know precious little about the language of flowers (a bit I’ve picked up from reading things here and there, absent actually picking up a textbook about flora in literature, with most of my knowledge revolving around poisonous flowers for some). Your posts on their symbolism in reference to the anime in which they are leveraged are fascinating, and I’d love to school myself on flowers one day.

    1. There are so many anime that use flower language. I think this is because a lot of flower meanings are commonly known in Japan (sakura/cherry blossoms, lily/shirayuri, red spider lilies/higanbana, etc.) and ikebana and hanakotoba are taught more frequently in Japan than, say, the Victorian language of flowers is taught in the West. This isn’t to say that either are taught to or picked up often by young people. If you ask a random Japanese person on the street, they’ll probably have no idea what you’re talking about.

      There’s also the fact that symbolism like this tends to appear in media regardless. I haven’t read the Land of the Lustrous manga (yet) so I have no idea if flower language/hanakotoba appears there at all.

      Once you learn, you can’t stop seeing it, hehe.

      Also I’ve always enjoyed your posts. I’m just really bad about commenting. T_T

      1. And thanks for mentioning that you read them. That actually means a lot to me.

        Land of the Lustrous does have a lot of flower symbolism in the manga as well, though a drawback of the manga is that you can’t obviously see these flowers’ colors.

  3. “In separating from the rest of the gems and starting the nightly patrol out of pride, Cinnabar is being a bit foolish. They don’t have enough faith in the love of others, including Kongou, but believe in that same love (and later Phos) enough to wait for them to come up with a different plan or career. Cinnabar is an indecisive character.”

    Holy —-, this. If Phos is an idiot, then Cinnabar is a God damn one. They’re taking different approaches to helping themselves and others out of their misery, and they’re both miserable regardless.

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