Flower Motifs


Flower symbols are frequently found on pysanky, and fall into three general categories: vazony (flowers in a flowerpot), ruzhi (or rozhi, eight petal flowers), and other flowers. The first are a berehynia symbol; the second, sun symbols; the last group are discussed here.

Traditional pysanky abound with flowers. As Selivachov noted, “it is natural that the favorite motif of the Ukrainian peasant should be the flower.  It is the plant’s smile, a sign of its essence, the peak of the annual cycle from seed to fruit, which will provide new seed. For the peasant, flowering is the most crucial time, for this is when he fruit is fertilized or the barren flower wilts......In folk art the flower is one of the most meaningful symbols.  Artist give flower-lie appearances to people, birds, animals. This flows organically from the folk mentality.  Recall the folkloric comparison of a girl with a flower, a small bird or a fish.....or the poet Shevchenko’s expressions: “my thoughts–my flowers,” “my bird–my flowering poppy,” “my brother–my royal bloom.”

Flowers are a symbol of beauty and of fertility and abundance.

The “other flowers” found on pysanky can also be subdivided. First there are the very widespread “kvitka” (flower) motifs.  These are defined by their non-definition--there are no specific botanical features, it is a generic flower, not a specific one. 

The second group is “exotic” flowers. These are usually given the names “tulipany” or “telepany” (tulips) or “orkhidea” (orchid).  It was not so long ago that these plants were quite foreign to Ukraine, and few had ever seen them.  These were fantastical names given to fantastical flowers, and the symbols usually bear no resemblance whatsoever to the named plants.

Third is specific named flowers.  In this group we see flowers which usually bear at least a passing resemblance to their botanical namesakes: carnations, bells, daisies, violets, sunflowers and others.

KVITKY: Selivachov has provided us with a great number of “”kvitka” motifs found on pysanky:


1)  Kyiv

  1. 2)Zhytomyr

  2. 3)Chernihiv

  3. 4)Chernihiv

  4. 5)Elizavethrad

  5. 6)Vinnytsia

  6. 7)Vinnytsia

  7. 8)Hutusl

  8. 9) Poltava

  9. 11)Poltava

  10. 12)Poltava

  11. 13)Poltava

  12. 16)Vinnytsia

  13. 17)Vinnytsia

As you can see, flower motifs vary in size and shape, but have the common feature of a lack of specific features.  They resemble a child’s conception of of a flower–petals, from a common center, in various arrangements. It is the multiple petals which make a motif a flower. 

On the other hand, motifs like these–a central ovoid with a serrated outline–are much more likely to be leaves, and are often identified as oak leaves. More complex such designs, like the lower example below, can be seen on Sokal pysanky, where they may be leaves, flowers or buds.

Below are a few examples of “kvitky” on pysanky from Binyashevsky, with examples from the Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Lemko regions:


These are examples of a variety of kvitka motifs on pysanky I have written; these first three are from Vinnytsia, Zakarpattia and Cherkasy regions:


These floral pysanky are from Hrubeshiv, Kuban and the Kirovohrad region:


These are from Podillia, Kyiv (2):



These are from Odesa and Bukovyna.  The Bukovynian one is called “Edelweiss” (Косиця); it is actually a variation on the berehynia with wings.


Sunflowers, another Ukrainian favorite, are probably sun symbols.  Sunflowers on traditional folk pysanky tend to be very simple, a circle with fringe, as in these Boiko and Kyiv region pysanka from Binyashevsky. The latter is actually a berehynia motif which has been renamed due to the characteristics of the head.


This traditional design, from Odarka Onyshchuk, is from the Chernihiv region and is also called “Sunflowers.”

Those created in the diaspora tend to be intricately drawn and quite botanically correct, as in these examples.


Periwinkle, an evergreen plant, represents eternal life.  It is also a vital component of every bride’s bouquet, and festoons the wedding bread (коровай).



Tulip motifs are common in some regions



As are carnations




and konvalia/конвалія (lily-of the-valley). This is an example collected by Binyashevsky from Priashivshchyna (Slovakian Lemko).

Poppy: Small red poppies grow wild in the fields of Ukraine in summer. And it used to be that no garden in Ukraine was complete without a row of bright red cultivated oriental poppies, as poppy seeds feature prominently in Ukrainian cuisine. Recently, though, cultivation of these poppies has been banned because they are not only a source of poppy seeds, but of opium. Poppies have been diverted into the drug trade, sometimes purposefully, but often by thieve stealing poppy crops.

Poppy motifs, though, are not found on traditional folk pysanky, although they are quite common in the Diaspora, where they are considered emblematic of Ukraine. 

Poppies were not written on pysanky because, in folk tradition, they symbolized death. Poppies were never embroidered on rushnyky, either, except on those meant for funerals.  Nor were poppies woven into vinky, the floral wreath/headdresses that young women wore, unless the wearer was in mourning for the death of a brother.

Since the desovietization movement which began after the Maidan, what had been the “Great Patriotic War” has become known instead as WWII, and it is now symbolized not by the Russian St. George’s ribbon, but by the poppy, as in many western nations.

These are a few examples of Diasporan poppy motifs:


And these are a few examples of Diasporan pysanky with poppies on them.


Spring blossoms

Sosonka       Ruzha

Back to Phytomorphic Gallery page.

Back to MAIN Symbolism home page.

Back to MAIN Pysanka home page.

Back to Pysanka Index.

Search my site with Google