By Sarah Fiorello

Over the course of spring, dormant plants emerge to encounter a roller coaster of weather conditions, ranging from a brisk snowfall to a dry heat akin to late July. Many plants that bloom during this tumultuous transition between winter and summer have come to signify hope, rebirth, and renewal—including the daffodil, cherry blossom, tulip, and iris.


The more than of 100,000 daffodils that bloom throughout our gardens and arboretum in April serve as harbingers of spring.

For many, daffodils denote one’s ability to change and start anew. This symbolism is associated with the daffodil’s ability to grow from underground storage tissues, or bulbs. As daylight lengthens in spring, the daffodils use energy stored in their bulbs to send up leaves and produce roots. Within a few weeks, a bright yellow or orange flower brightens a muted landscape.

Fifty-six varieties of daffodils grow throughout the arboretum and gardens around the welcome center,  presenting swaths of color around Conifer Slope, the Young Flower Garden, Groundcover Collection, Bioswale, Hillside Garden, and Winter Garden.

The common name daffodil originated from the Dutch words “affo dyle,” meaning “that which comes early.”

Cherry Blossom

Another harbinger of spring—flowering cherries—blooms shortly after daffodils emerge.

As Japan’s national flower, cherry blossoms, called “sakura,” are widely celebrated in Japanese culture. There are at least 15 species of flowering cherries native to Japan, with hundreds of varieties cultivated by people over centuries.

As one of the earliest spring blooms, they are often considered a symbol of renewal, representing the promise of new beginnings. Because of their short bloom time, they also symbolize the ephemeral nature of life. Cherry blossoms embody the Japanese philosophy of “wabi-sabi,” a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection, as well as gentleness and kindness.

Seven varieties of cherries (Prunus sp.) are also found within the Flowering Tree Collection, and the remaining 13 varieties are dispersed throughout the F.R. Newman Arboretum and at the Nevin Welcome Center.


Like daffodils and cherry blossoms, tulips have been associated with different meanings throughout history. Because tulips are one of the earliest flowers to bloom in spring, they represent rebirth and new beginnings. It is not unusual to see tulips included on a decorative cremation urn, serving as a reminder that death offers new beginnings or continuation in some form.

Tulips have been cultivated for hundreds of years for their beauty and powerful symbolism. From late April to early May, dozens of varieties of tulips are in bloom in the Young Flower Garden. An illustrated outdoor booklet is displayed, which traces how the tulip’s symbolism and meaning evolved as it spread from its wild origin in Central Asia through the Middle East, Europe and beyond to become one of the most cherished plants in the world.


The blooms of irises span the colors of a rainbow. In Greek and Roman mythology, the goddess Iris, whose name means “Eye of Heaven,” traveled her rainbow bridge between heaven and earth as a messenger of the gods. This association with a goddess earned the iris its status as something sacred and came to represent trust in the divine and the hope for better things to come.

The blue iris is most closely associated with faith and hope. Its color represents the calmness of the sky and the sea, evoking feelings of trust and optimism. They are a beautiful reminder to keep faith and hope alive.

Explore plants in our collections

Whether you are able to visit Cornell Botanic Gardens in person or enjoy our gardens and natural areas from afar, we invite you to explore some of these harbingers of hope in the collections below.

Triandrus Daffodil

Narcissus 'Thalia'

Trumpet Daffodil

Narcissus 'Little Gem'

Cyclamineus Daffodil

Narcissus 'February Gold'


Narcissus 'Professor Einstein'

Cyclamineus Daffodil

Narcissus 'Jack Snipe'

Cyclamineus Daffodil

Narcissus 'Jetfire'

Autumn-Flowering Higan Cherry

Prunus subhirtella 'Autumnalis'

Flowering Cherry

Prunus 'Snow Goose'

Flowering Cherry

Prunus 'Dream Catcher'

Sargent Cherry

Prunus sargentii 'Princeton Snowcloud'

Weeping Flowering Cherry

Prunus 'Snofozam' SNOW FOUNTAINS


Prunus incisa

Double Late Tulip

Tulipa 'Angelique'

Double Late Tulip

Tulipa 'Dream Touch'

Lady Tulip

Tulipa clusiana 'Cynthia'

Greigii Tulip

Tulipa 'Red Riding Hood'

Lily Flowered Tulip

Tulipa 'Pieter De Leur'

Wild Tulip

Tulipa sylvestris

Gerald Darby Versicolor Iris

Iris x robusta 'Gerald Darby'

German Bearded Iris

Iris 'Cracklin Burgundy'


Iris 'Joyce McBride'

Reticulated Iris

Iris reticulata

Wild Iris

Iris versicolor

Roof Iris

Iris tectorum