With delicately arching petals, long, elegant filaments, and anthers fluffy with colorful pollen, lilies are some of the most visually exquisite flowers in existence, but they have so much more to offer than mere beauty!
These lovely flowers also carry with them an almost inexhaustible amount of symbolic meaning, giving them an extremely wide appeal around the globe for numerous applications.
They’re just as well-received as a congratulatory gift as they are as condolences, and that, my friend, is what you call range! No matter what you’re trying to say, lilies are often a better way to say it than with actual words.
So, let’s put this multifaceted flower under the microscope and see what symbolism bubbles beneath its beauteous exterior.
What Does The Lily Flower Mean?
One of the reasons that lily flowers are so rich in meaning is that there are many color variants, each evoking a number of different emotions and associations (we’ll get into all that in just a sec). But the dominant meanings attributed to these beautiful flowers are purity and fertility.
The sweetness of their scent and the fragile innocence of their slender silhouette has tied them to ideas, not just of new life, but of rebirth too, making them a fitting token of burgeoning parenthood, or for anybody emerging from troubled times.
This association is no doubt helped along by the Greek mythology regarding Hera, Zeus’ wife. It is said that lilies grew from droplets of her milk that fell to the ground after refusing to feed Hercules.
Now, that story also includes a fair bit of infidelity and attempted infanticide, which isn’t quite as wholesome as general allusions to motherhood and new life, but you get the idea.
Etymological Meaning Of The Lily Flower
The word lily is derived from the old English, lilie, which, in turn, is derivative of the Latin word lilia (plural of lilium) & the Greek word leirion, both of which simply refer to the subject of today’s article, the lovely lily flower.
It’s thought that the Latin and Greek words mentioned above were actually the product of a corrupted pronunciation of the eastern Mediterranean word, hreri.
Symbolism Of The Lily Flower
As mentioned earlier, lilies have some serious allegorical range, so you can bend their meaning to suit almost any purpose.
- Purity and Fertility
As we’ve already discussed, purity and fertility is the lily flower’s meat and potatoes, so to speak.
Lilies are also commonly referred to in the western world as “the flower of death”, which is why they’re such a popular choice at funerals.
However, there is sound reasoning behind this seemingly unfounded symbolic shift. In a funeral setting, lilies still represent innocence, but rather than that of a literal or figurative newborn, they refer to the restored innocence of the absolved soul of the deceased.
Lilies reassure us that, though someone may be gone from our side, they’re not gone completely, but in a better place, a place that will eventually host our eternal reunion.
We have Victorian society to thank for a lot of the emotional maturity and fluency we understand in ourselves today.
However, as we still are, the Victorians were a work in progress, and a great deal of the human emotional spectrum was considered unfit for public display.
In light of this, people developed an alternative, more discrete manner of communicating feelings and desires with other members of society: they spoke through the sending of flowers.
This emerging, semi-secret language was given the name floriography, and in this language, each flower pertained to a very specific emotion or message.
The Romans would use lilies to stuff their pillows to provide a lovely scent in the boudoir, and as such, the lily became synonymous with love-making and lovers in general, which is why it was chosen by the creators of this floral vernacular as the flower of love.
If you wanted to express your undying adoration and devotion to someone in your life, rather than standing up in the middle of an event and singing to them à la Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You, you’d send a bouquet of lilies and a note bearing your name.
- Traditional Femininity
The undeniable grace and elegance of the slender lily flower has long drawn ties to ideas of traditional femininity, yet more sub-symbolism that can be linked into the dominant allegory of purity and fertility.
The connection between lilies and femininity dates back to Ancient Egypt when new brides would be sent garlands of these flowers to represent the purity of their promise to their spouse. This tradition spread through the years and became a staple of both Ancient Greek and Roman weddings.
Over time, the association blurred from the original meaning of purity, to signify femininity on a border scale.
… There are also a number of different meaning tied to particular varietals of the lily flower:
- Asiatic Lily — Purity and Marriage
Staple of the global wedding industry, the Asiatic lily is used to symbolize purity and the beauty of sacred promises.
- Oriental Lilies — The Virgin Mary
The stem of this lily is said to represent Mary’s faithful mind; the petals, her purity and virginity; the scent, her divinity; and the leaves, her humility.
- Calla Lilies — Faith, Strength, Beauty… and Vaginas
In Christian circles, the calla lily is a symbolic representation of both religious and marital faith. To the Ancient Greeks, it was more of a physical embodiment of the concept of beauty. And in western society, they’re a token of strength due to their ability to re-flower after being cut.
This flower is also considered quite vaginal in appearance, establishing ties to femininity, feminism, sex, and fertility.
Lily Flower Color Meanings
Perhaps more important than the species of lily in terms of how they’re perceived is their color.
- White Lilies
White lilies are the quintessential form you picture when the flower is mentioned, and this is because the neutrality of the shade gives them such a versatile appeal.
Since time immemorial, white has been associated with innocence and purity. This is why they’re often used for weddings, reinforcing the statement and aesthetic established by the white dress.
- Pink Lilies
Pink lilies exude femininity, brightness, adoration, admiration, and love. They’re seen as the physical manifestation of your thoughts for a cared one, and gifting them to people assures them that they hold valuable real estate in the forefront of your mind.
Typically shared between female friends and family members, pink lilies have quickly become a symbol of kinship, affinity, and even as a token of belief. If somebody close to you is suffering from self-esteem issues, a bouquet of pink lilies can remind them of their value, and boost their confidence.
- Red Lilies
In this modern age, the red lily is typically relied upon to relay romantic feelings of love and passion, an original spin on the red rose, which, let’s be honest, at this point, has been done to death.
These lilies are also linked to determination and achievement, their red petals emblematic of the fire that burns inside, making them a fantastic gift for the person in your life who has been working hard on something.
- Orange Lilies
Orange lilies are all about warmth and positivity, so they’re a shoo-in as a gift for those embarking on a new venture. They’re also a remarkable way to relay congratulations.
- Yellow Lilies
The softness and warmth of yellow lilies makes them very palatable indeed, filling the niche gaps between the bolder tones in the lily catalog.
They connote fresh starts, happiness, loyalty, and symbolize the light and warmth of sunshine. As such, they’re a remarkable way to say thank you, show appreciation, and to cultivate a strong sense of togetherness between you and loved ones.
- Purple Lilies
If you want to show your pride in or respect for a special person in your life, purple lilies are the way to do it. This regal shade has long been associated with notions of royalty and dignity, making them the perfect gift for the matriarch in your family.
Meaningful Botanical Characteristics Of The Lily Flower
As we touched upon earlier, the slender stem and delicate petals of the lily are associated with notions of traditional femininity, gentleness, and grace.
Some species of lily grow stolons, creeping stems that reach out in the earth from an established plant, releasing roots along their length in order to form fresh life.
This hidden connection between seemingly separate plants symbolizes the strong link we share with loved ones, regardless of distance. It infers a perpetual sense of togetherness and support. Most lily bulbs are also buried deep underground, signifying strength, and an eradicable sense of purpose.
Blooming in late spring through summer, even white lilies radiate a warmth, stoking the embers of the soul, reminding us that, though we experience coldness in this life, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Special Occasions For Lily Flowers
The obvious events that spring to mind when thinking of lilies are weddings and funerals, but, as you now know, there’s a lily out there for any occasion. They’re perfect for baby showers, birthdays, graduations, retirement shindigs… you name it!
They’re also considered the official flower of 30th wedding anniversaries, so if there are some real “couple goals” people in your life celebrating their third decade together, you can’t go wrong with lilies as a gift.
Lily Flower Cultural Significance
In ancient and Minoan cultures, the lily had strong ties to notions of sovereignty, but these flowers weren’t just enjoyed by kings. For anyone within society who wanted to establish their superiority and power, lilies would be the perfect statement to do so.
Lilies were also symbolic of the onset of summer in these cultures, especially red and white combinations. Much later on in Greece and Rome, lilies became a symbol of poetic love.
In the Byzantine period, the connection between lilies and kings was shelved for the higher connection with God and glory of Christ.
There was another symbolic/cultural shift in the Middle Ages, symmetrizing the lily and the Virgin Mary, compounding the significance of the flower within Christian cultures.
In the Jewish faith, the Star of David is said to be modeled on the lily, accounting for its six points. And in the modern world, due to the sheer number of meanings attached to this plant through the ages, the lily celebrates significance in almost every single culture.
Lily Flower Facts
- Despite their dainty appearance, lily flowers are hardy plants, capable of thriving without any human intervention.
- Lilies are social plants, meaning they’re healthier when growing near to one another — cute, right?
- One of the reasons lilies are so popular is that they boast an extensive life as cut blooms.
- Lilies are poisonous to cats, so keep them away from your furry friends.
- Only white and tiger lilies have that signature sweet fragrance. Other variants don’t smell anywhere near as pleasant or potent.
Lily Flower Uses
- Unlike our cats, lilies are on the menu for humans. The Chinese, in particular, are fond of including these flowers in their cuisine.
- Lily roots and bulbs can be used to make medicinal tea said to ease the discomfort and pain of stomach issues, combat fevers, and help women during labor.
- Lilies can also be used to form soothing ointments for treating rashes, burns, ulcers, and inflammation. It will also minimize the development of scar tissue in the problem area.
- Tiger lilies can be used as cough medicine.
What Is The Symbolism Of A Lily Flower Tattoo?
A tattooed lily doesn’t stray too far from the cultural meanings and spiritual symbolism of the actual flower. They often symbolize femininity, motherhood, natural beauty, devotion, purity, sensuality, optimism, togetherness (especially with someone who has the same or similar tattoo), gentleness, peace, strength, fertility (strife and success), and inner beauty.
I think we can all agree that the lily flower is one awesome plant (unless you’re a cat, that is). It’s likely one of the most mythologized life forms on the planet, and by the look of things, we’re not willing to let these time-earned associations fall by the wayside.
The lily will forever be an integral part of our identity, and I couldn’t be happier about it!
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