What's a word that describes something incredibly beautiful, that you can never own, and which might only exist for a short time?

These words come to my mind when I think about the concept I'm trying to describe: transient, ephemeral, sacrosanct, inviolable, fleeting. Something beautiful you can only see but can't own.

The broad-leaved epiphyllum is a cactus that bears flowers for only one night per year. Its blossoms might be described as _____.

I'm specifically looking for a word that has at least strong connotations of extreme beauty. The romantic idea of a beautiful rare flower that blooms only once a year, in the middle of a desert where no one will see it in the first place, is all I wanted to paint with my example.

  • Your example doesn't match your first sentence. Lots of people own plants like epiphyllum, and even if the flower only last a few hours, they do actually "have, possess" it for the duration. Pehaps the word you're looking for is ephemeral (existing only briefly, said of things that don't last very long). Jun 17, 2022 at 14:19
  • The fact that you want "strong connotations of extreme beauty" is beside the point. Your first sentence says the thing should be "unobtainable" (something you can never own), but obviously plants can be owned, whether their flowers are ephemeral or not. So which is the vital component (apart from "great beauty")? The fact of being ephemeral, OR of being unobtainable? If the latter, perhaps it's a figurative Holy Grail. Jun 17, 2022 at 14:34
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    You need something poetic and evocative. This is where you get to be creative. Jun 17, 2022 at 19:00
  • Like a mirage? Apparition? Jun 18, 2022 at 1:52
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    The OP literally clarified the context when asked in the comments. We have many ask-and-runs that don't even bother to come back to the question. The question has a context and an example sentence. Not everyone need to know the nuances of words, and it is not always clear in dictionaries. I don't know why it is closed. Voting to re-open.
    – ermanen
    Jun 18, 2022 at 12:08

3 Answers 3


Ephemeral can capture the sense of beauty and lasting for a short time in the context. It also has the exact sense for your example sentence.

: something that lasts for a very short time : something ephemeral
specifically : a plant that grows, flowers, and dies in a few days

Of insects, flowers, etc.: Existing for one day only, or for a very few days.

An aurora (aurora borealis, aurora australis) is a good example also as a natural phenomenon that is untouchable/unattainable. They are beautiful, out of reach and last for a short time. Ephemeral can be used to describe the light display of auroras as well.

Aurora Borealis, An Ephemeral Dance Over the Lofoten Islands enter image description here
Leo and Vero - www.manfrottoimaginemore.com

Additionally, symbolism is a strong art form or a literary device where symbols can express multiple senses, ideas, emotions. For example, a garland can symbolize ephemeral beauty. Here is a myth I've found that explains it:

Flowers are clearly an intrinsic part of the Garland project. As adornment, the string of flowers celebrates the ephemeral beauty of the world around us. The flowers of the garland can have different meanings. The Zapotec in Oaxaca make a garland out of water lilies in reference to the myth of Mudubina, a celestial romance that is only consummated at night when the lily opens its flower.


Ethereal comes to mind. While it doesn't include the meaning of "transience", it does include "untouchable" and "beautiful":

  • ethereal sounds, qualities etc have a delicate beauty that makes them seem not to be part of the real world (Macmillan English Dictionary)
  • (1) of or relating to the regions beyond the earth / celestial, heavenly / unworldly, spiritual (2) lacking material substance : immaterial, intangible / marked by unusual delicacy or refinement / suggesting the heavens or heaven (Merriam-Webster)

The latter gives an example from the ornithologist William Beebe, describing (I think) a hummingbird:

With cap of gold and gorget of copper, this smallest, most ethereal, and daintiest of birds hung balanced just above...

  • Almost certainly the best fit, but OP asks for too much of a single word. Jun 18, 2022 at 18:25

Would the word evanescent fit your requirements? https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/evanescent

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