Metaphors Connected with Plants

18 April 2013

  Image by Dale Stewart


Spring is my favourite time of the year. Young spring green shoots and leaves are branching out on trees and shrubs, flowers are blooming and fruit is beginning to set. When I take a walk down our road, the fragrance of orange blossoms sweetens the air.


Since our very lives depend on the bounty that comes from the soil, it’s not surprising that so many metaphors in our language refer to plants. Let’s look at some of the ways.

Planting, sowing & reaping

Just as a seed produces a plant, so do our actions produce results – some good and some bad.


The saying ‘you reap what you sow’ is a metaphor for the actions you take and their results. If you do good things, you’ll get good results or payback; if you do bad things, payback will not be pleasant.



All plants originate from seeds. (I just recently learned that even potatoes and bananas can be grown from seed.)


In a figurative sense, the seed of something is the beginning of an idea, feeling or process. They can be positive (seeds of hope, seeds of happiness) or negative (seeds of jealousy, seeds of distrust).



Roots are a plant’s underground support system, which draws in nutrients and water.


Used figuratively, roots can indicate cause, for example, ‘the root of the problem’ or ‘the root of their success’.  


They can also indicate connection (as in roots in a place or a culture). If you say that you’ve ‘put down roots’, it means that you’ve settled in a place more or less permanently. Another way to talk about connection is to speak of your ‘family roots’, that is, where your ancestors came from.


Flowers, blooms, blossoms

The words ‘flower’, ‘bloom’ and ‘blossom’ are interchangeable. They can be nouns or verbs.


Since flowers are all beautiful, the figurative use of the words flower, bloom and blossom all have positive connotations. If you say that someone has ‘blossomed’, it means that they have grown in a positive way. If someone is ‘blooming’, they are becoming very healthy, happy or successful.


Trees and branches

Our family trees include various ‘branches’. We have two primary ‘branches’—our mother’s and father’s sides of the family—and many other branches that include aunts, uncles, in-laws, cousins, etc. My family tree (both my father’s and mother’s sides) has roots in the UK. Centuries ago, ancestors from both branches emigrated to the US. I can trace one member of my mother’s branch who fought in the US Revolutionary War (in George Washington’s army). An ancestor from my father’s branch was the Native American, Pocahontas.


We use the word ‘branch’ to talk about more than families. A company can have ‘branch’ offices around the world. Fields of study can have several branches. The sciences, for example, include biology, physics, chemistry, medicine and many other branches.


If you say a person or a company is ‘branching out’, that means they are trying something new.



Just as real fruit can be either fragrant and delicious or rotten and smelly, the metaphor ‘fruit’ can indicate something positive or negative.


The ‘fruit of hard work’ is a reward (and sometimes success). The ‘fruit of jealousy’ is seldom good.





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