The Plants of Día de los Muertos 

Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos, is a holiday celebrated from October 31—November 2 each year. A blend of precolonial rituals, Latin American traditions, European religion and Spanish culture, family and friends remember deceased loved ones with a joyous celebration that includes food, drink, and flowers.

While frequently associated with Mexico, Día de los Muertos is celebrate throughout Latin America with different cultural traditions, many of which involve plants used for decorations, recipes, or to honor the deceased.  In Mexico, marigolds are the holiday’s most iconic flower, but each country has its own unique take on the holiday. Garden staff shared traditions from their home countries.

Yellow Marigold. Photo by Claire Cohen.


Traditions shared by Carolina Romero, Research Specialist.

In Colombia, the holiday is known as Día de los Santos Difuntos and is celebrated on November 2.  

The main purpose of this festivity is to pay tribute to the people who died and who are being purified in purgatory before they can reach heaven, according to the beliefs of Catholicism. Colombia has a long-standing Catholic tradition brought by the Spanish during the Conquest and later imposed throughout its colonies during the colonial period.  

On Día de los Santos Difuntos, people bring flower arrangements, candles, and other offerings to the graves of their loved ones. Due to the traditions origins, most of the flowers used for the celebrations aren’t native or local, but they are each associated with certain symbolism. 

  • Marigold (Tagetes erecta) called “marigol” in Colombia, this flower is the most commonly used for the decorations of the offering altars and tombs. Its bright color represents joy and it is believed that its smell attracts the souls of the dead. Its intense yellow color evokes the sun, as an aide to guide the soul to salvation. 
  • Annual gypsophila (Psammophiliella muralis) called “gisófila” or “nube de novia, meaning bride’s cloud,” this plant’s white color and delicate flowers symbolize purity. Boques reason why bouquets with them are placed in the altars of the Day of the Dead. 
  • Cockscomb (Celosia argentea var. cristata) called “celosía” or “terciopelo, meaning “velvet,” these flowers symbolize mourning for loss. 
  • Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) called “clavel,” is reminiscent of the passion of Christ and also represents admiration and homage. Its Latin name Dianthus means ‘Flower of God’. 
  • Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum x morifolium) called “crisantemo,” these plants are heavily used in the altars made for the tombs of the dead. Chrysanthemums evoke the transient of life. 


Traditions shared by Garden Curator Carmen Ulloa.

Ecuadorians celebrate November 2 as the Day of the Deceased, also known as Día de los Difuntos or Finados. On this day, it is tradition is to visit local cemeteries to pay respect to deceased relatives. Stands with flowers of all colors line up outside cemeteries.

As in Colombia, cockscomb, carnation, and chrysanthemum are frequently used to decorate graves for the occasion. Bright yellow sunflowers are a more common sight than marigolds. Other popular choices include roses, fragrant lilies, and alstroemerias.

Colada morada and guaguas de pan. Photo by Carmen Ulloa.

In the countryside, especially in mountain villages, the celebration may include bringing food and beverages to share in a pleasant, rather than sad, family affair, and to reminisce about ancestors’ lives. One of the most important Ecuadorian culinary traditions of the day is to have the family together for “colada morada,” a special drink made with purple corn flour and containing blueberries, blackberries, pineapple, strawberries, and spices, paired with “guaguas de pan,” sweet breads shaped like babies.


Traditions shared by Myriam Fica, Web Technology Specialist.

In Chile, Día de los Muertos is a religious event.  People go to the cemetery and lay flowers at the grave of love ones. Popular flower choices include gladiolus, chrysanthemum, and roses.

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