There are many different meanings people attributed to the lilac flower for thousands of years. Dating all the way back to the days of the ancient Greeks and their mythology.
For example, there’s a story about Pan, the god of forests and fields. He was in love with a beautiful nymph, Syringa. Once, he pursued her through a forest and, in order to avoid him, Syringa turned herself into a shrub of lilacs.
Pan was unable to find his love, he did, however, find the lilac shrub, and because he did not know that the lilacs were Syringa, he cut down the lilacs and turned the reeds into the very first panpipe. Because of this, the scientific name for lilacs is Syringa Vulgaris.
Since then, lilacs have found themselves at the center of many different people’s affections, leading them to be imbued with a lot of different symbolism across different cultures.
But it cannot be argued that people all around the world have been enticed by the sweet smell and appearance of the lilac flower.
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What Does The Lilac Flower Mean
As mentioned, people assigned a lot of different meanings to the lilac flower. These meanings have been altered and diversified over time.
However, due to the fact that lilacs can most accurately be traced back to having originated in Southeastern Europe, most of the meanings and symbolism come from Mediterranean culture.
There, they most frequently associated with Easter and springtime, as that typically occurs at the peak of the lilac’s blooming season.
However, the meaning behind a lilac flower differs vastly in different cultures, not just Mediterranean. For example, the Celts in Britain would regard the lilac as almost magical, due to the deeply intoxicating fragrance that they give off. There were many stories of enchantments accredited to lilacs.
Later, during the Victorian Era, lilacs more commonly represented the idea of ‘old love’. If you married or together for a long time then you might gift your partner a lilac. In fact, many widows and widowers often wear lilacs as a reminder of their loved one during the mourning period.
In other parts of the world, however, like in Russia, holding a sprig of lilac over the head of a newborn baby bring wisdom to the child and encourage it to grow into an intelligent person.
Etymological Meaning Of The Lilac Flower
The scientific name for a lilac is Syringa Vulgaris, from the Greek word “syrinks” or “styrix” which means tube or pipe.
This likely refers to the plant’s hollow stems, which links back to the myth of Pan and Syringa – Pan was able to make a panpipe out of the lilac stems because they are hollow tubes.
The word lilac is derived from a couple of different Romantic languages like French, but also very closely related to Semitic languages like Arabic, where the word is līlak. In most languages, the color lilac is named after the flower, rather than the other way around.
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Symbolism Of The Lilac Flower
Due to the fact that lilacs have an incredibly early bloom time compared to a lot of other flowers, in a lot of cultures a lilac represents youth, joy, and the rebirth of spring. They can be a symbol of the changing seasons and passing of time.
They are also a symbol of love, more typically an old love, or even specifically lost love. This is why people in the Victorian era would wear a lilac on them during periods of mourning
However, there are other meanings that lilacs have been symbolic of. For example, they are the state flower of New Hampshire in the United States, as a way to represent the ‘hardy’ nature of its people.
And in Walt Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, the poet uses the blossoms as a symbol of confidence. However, other authors state that in this poem, the lilacs more accurately represent life after death in a narrative that depicts Abraham Lincoln’s last days.
So there are a couple of slightly contrasting versions of what a lilac might mean, so you can choose what you feel suits them better.
Lilac Flower Color Meaning
Lilacs can bloom in a pretty wide range of different colors, depending on what variety of lilac they are. These colors range from dark purple to white, and basically everything in between. These colors all symbolize something a little different, so I’ll go through these different meanings here:
Light Blue Lilacs
If a lilac is a soft light blue, then the meaning that has long associated with them is that of tranquility and happiness.
Light Purple Lilacs
The most common of all the different lilac variations (and where the name of the color comes from) are a symbol of first love, and will traditionally feature in floral arrangements with a romantic intention.
This deep color more commonly associated with romantic undertones. But rather than symbolizing young love, or lost love, a magenta lilac more accurately represents passionate and unrestrained love.
Lilacs that have a darker purple tone to them, usually with a white border around the petals, are very spiritually symbolic flowers. They are reflective and inward-looking, making many people consider the purple lilac to be a tangible connection to the spiritual world.
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Although it is far rarer than the other color variations, if the lilacs have bloomed white, then these are often a symbol of divinity, but also of innocence, purity, and new beginnings.
Meaningful Botanical Characteristics Of The Lilac Flower
Most plants in the Syringa genus are deciduous shrubs, meaning that they shed their leaves every year. This is one of the reasons that it is a symbol of new beginnings. Even though they lose all of their leaves, they are still able to produce beautiful blooming flowers every year, earlier than most other flowers.
The common lilac shrub will grow to be about 16ft tall, and they have heart-shaped green leaves. The panicles (clusters) can be up to 8inches long and will bloom with either purple, blue, magenta, or white flowers.
Lilacs have a very sweet but pleasant and potent fragrance meaning that you’ll definitely know when you’re near lilacs.
It’s also worth noting that lilacs are non-toxic, and therefore safe to keep in the house around humans, dogs, and cats.
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Special Occasions For The Lilac Flower
As a special flower with a rich, symbolic history, there are many times when people could see the gift of lilacs as appropriate. For example, some people in Russia still use a sprig of lilac when a new child is born. They are also beautiful in a bouquet of flowers to somebody you love.
Specifically, the lilac flower is the official flower for a couple’s 8th anniversary. So if you’re struggling with thinking of something to give on your 8th anniversary, then you know you can give your partner a bunch of lilac flowers and impress them with your newfound knowledge on the subject.
Lilac Flower Cultural Significance
Lilacs have long since been a source of inspiration and artistic muse, all across history. Whether they were a magic symbol in the days of Celtic Britain, or a flower that represents lost love for widows in the Victorian era.
They have also been the object of affection for many a painter over the years, most notably Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet. Both of these impressionist painters have famous works that depict the beauty and majesty of lilacs within their works – multiple pieces for each.
Walt Whitman, and other poets, have also include lilacs in a lot of their works, including When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”, a Walt Whitman poem that uses lilacs to symbolize a couple of different things.
Lilacs were also an early Presidential favorite as both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson has a deep appreciation for the flowers – they both kept the flowers blooming in their gardens.
Lilac shrubs can also live for over 100 years, meaning that when you plant them, you can be confident that they will probably outlive you. People knew this years ago as well, so if you’re out walking and come across a grove or shrub of lilacs, it is very likely that there was a homestead there many years ago.
Lilac Flower Facts
- Lilacs are in the same family as the Olive Tree
Lilac shrubs belong to the Oleaceae family, which is also home to 20 different plant species, including olive trees, ash, and even jasmine.
- There are more than 1000 varieties of lilac
This includes all the color variations of lilacs and even some trees. Lilac trees can actually reach heights of more than 30ft tall.
- Lilacs have one of the shortest bloom times.
They only bloom for about 3 weeks at the start of spring and then not again until the next year.
- Lilacs thrive in alkaline, well-draining, fertile soils and need full sun exposure.
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Lilac Flower Uses
There are several different uses for lilac flowers. Many have used it in traditional medicinal settings for years across the majority of the world.
In European folk medicine, they used common lilac to treat issues like joint pain, colds, and coughs. They also used the bark and leaves of a lilac tree or shrub to treat toothache by chewing them.
North America used this tradition, as well as in Europe. In addition to this, they used flowers of a lilac as a vermifuge (medicine that cures parasites etc), and also to reduce fevers.
Then, in traditional Asian medicine, lilac bark treat heart, bronchial, and lung diseases, tooth pain, and also for fevers.
Lilac flowers are actually edible. People can also use it in a variety of different ways. Many eat it raw, thanks to their sweet fragrance, but also baked into foods, or cured into preserves or jams. Some people might add lilacs to water to make teas.
Some cultures baked lilacs in batter and used as an ingredient in fried fritters.
Many also used the essential oil derived from lilacs inn soaps and perfumes for centuries, due to the intoxicating fragrance it produces.
The flowers can make a dye of whatever color they have bloomed with. Various different parts of the plant can actually create green, brown, and orange dyes.
As well as all of this, lilac wood has been useful in the past for engraving and making musical instruments. The density and hard consistency of lilac wood also make it a good choice for knife handles.
What Is The Symbolism Of A Lilac Flower Tattoo?
Lilacs are so often a symbol of love. So, a tattoo is most likely going to convey that meaning. The color that is chosen for the lilac will also come with the various symbolic meanings of each color.
A lilac tattoo might also represent lost love, similar to widows in the Victorian era.
The rich history and mythology that is associated with lilacs, paired with the beauty of their various colors, make them a fantastic addition to any garden, painting, or as a bouquet.
These flowers represent love, new beginnings, and confidence, whilst also being adored for their sweet scent. They have inspired leaders and artists for centuries, and now they can do the same for you.
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