Lilacs (Syringa) have an incredible ability to add color and beauty to the spring landscape every year, enchanting those that grow them. In the language of flowers, the lilacs are symbolic of the joy of youth and herald the change of seasons. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know about lilac flower meaning and symbolism, their rich history and origins in ancient cultures and mythological tales, the most popular types and uses, and the most suitable gifting occasions.
- Lilac Flower Meaning & Symbolism – The Essentials
- About Lilac Flowers
- Uses and Benefits of Lilac Flowers
- Lilac Flower Meaning & Symbolism
- The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Lilac Flowers
- Suitable Gifting Occasions for Lilac Flowers
- Lilac Flowers FAQ:
Lilac Flower Meaning & Symbolism – The Essentials
In the language of flowers, lilacs hold the symbolic meaning of the joy of youth. They’re also a common symbol of love, and in many regions of the world, symbolize Easter or the changing of the season to spring. In Walt Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, the poet uses the blossoms as a symbol of confidence.
About Lilac Flowers
Lilac – Family, Genus, and Taxonomy
Lilacs belong to the Syringa genus, a member of the Oleaceae family, and contain about 30 species. The common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) species has from 400 to 800 lilac cultivars.
Lilac Botanical Characteristics, Colors, Fragrances, and Toxicity
Most Syringa are deciduous shrubs with opposite, undivided, green leaves. The common lilac grows to about 16 feet tall and wide and has heart-shaped green or gray-green foliage.
The lilac flower blooms with a panicle flower type up to 8 inches long that consists of purple, blue, white, or pink blossoms. Lilacs are highly fragrant, with a pleasant, sweet scent.
Lilacs are not toxic to humans, dogs, or cats.
Popular Lilac Types, Species, and Cultivars
The common lilac (S. vulgaris) is often seen in the home garden. This popular ornamental has hundreds of cultivars and hybrids, which include:
- ‘Andeken an Louis Spaeth’, a small variety with purple to red flowers
- ‘Bicolor’ features variegated purple and white blossoms
- ‘Wedgewood Blue’ has pale blue blooms
- ‘Charles Joly’ features bright, large panicles
- ‘Katherine Havemeyer’ offers a long bloom period
- ‘Madame Florent Stepman’ blooms with pure white blossoms
Other Syringa species include:
- Cutleaf lilac (S. laciniata) with pale purple blooms and gray-green foliage
- Hungarian lilac (S. josilkaea) with loosely clustered blossoms on arching stems
- Japanese lilac tree (S. reticulata), which grows in tree form up to 39 feet tall
- Broadleaf or early blooming lilac (S. oblata), which flowers earlier than other species
The genus was first named by Carl Linnaeus in the mid-1700s. Syringa comes from the Greek word for “tube” or “pipe” (styrix) and is believed to refer to the plant’s hollow stems.
What Regions are Lilac Native To?
Lilacs are native to the woodlands of eastern Asia and southeastern Europe. They are cultivated as ornamentals in temperate regions around the world.
When are Lilacs in Season?
Lilacs bloom in early to late spring, depending on the variety.
Uses and Benefits of Lilac Flowers
Lilacs In Herbalism and Medicine
In European folk medicine traditions, common lilac was used to treat a number of ailments, including:
- gout, rheumatism, and joint pain
- gastrointestinal issues
In North America, lilac foliage has been used as a vermifuge and to reduce fever. Bark and leaves were chewed to relieve mouth soreness.
In Asian traditional medicine, lilac bark was used to treat heart, bronchial, and lung diseases, tooth pain, and as a fever reducer.
Lilacs in Food and Drink
Lilac flowers are edible. They can be eaten raw or baked into batter. In some cultures, lilac blooms are used as an ingredient in fried fritters.
Other Uses of Lilac
Lilac essential oil is used to scent perfumes, lotions, and soaps. Various parts of the plant can be used to create green, brown, and orange dyes.
Lilac wood has been used for engraving and making musical instruments. Its dense, hard consistency makes it a good choice for knife handles.
Lilacs are not toxic to humans, cats, or dogs.
Lilacs and Bee Friendliness and Pollination
Butterflies, bees, birds, and other pollinators are attracted to lilac blossoms. The plant is a good choice for a pollinator garden.
Lilac Flower Meaning & Symbolism
Lilacs bloom in a range of colors depending on variety, from deep purple to pale blue, light purple, and white. In the language of flowers, lilac blossoms symbolize the joy of youth.
Lilac flowers also have a different meaning for each color:
Blue Lilac Flower Meaning
Blue flowers have a long-held symbolic association with tranquility and happiness.
Light Purple Lilac Flower Meaning:
A light purple flower is symbolic of first love and traditionally feature in floral arrangements as a romantic gesture.
Magenta Lilac Flower Meaning
Magenta is a rich and deep color tone symbolizing passionate and unrestrained love, making it the ultimate romantic flower.
Purple Lilac Flower Meaning
Purple is often associated with royalty, regality, and nobility. But the purple lilac is also a very spiritually symbolic flower. Both reflective and inward-looking, the purple lilac is considered a connection to the spiritual world.
White Lilac Flower Meaning
White lilac flowers are often symbolic of divinity, innocence, purity, and new beginnings.
The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Lilac Flowers
Lilacs’ cultural significance is documented in Greek Mythology. Pan, the god of the fields and forests, fell in love with the nymph Syringa or Styrix. His love was not reciprocated – Syringa was tired of being chased by Pan, so she turned herself into a lilac shrub. Pan couldn’t find her, but he did discover the lilac shrub and constructed his famous instrument — the pan flute — from the lilac’s hollow stems.
The Ancient Celts considered lilacs’ scent to be magically intoxicating. In Russia, a sprig of lilac held over a newborn is said to impart wisdom.
To the Victorians, lilacs symbolized lost love. Women sometimes wore lilacs during periods of mourning.
Lilac Flowers in Art and Literature
Lilacs have been represented in art through the decades. Walt Whitman’s poem When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d —from his 1867 work Leaves of Grass — uses lilacs as a metaphor to express his confidence in President Abram Lincoln.
Works such as Pan and Styrix, painted by de Troy in the early 18th century, depict the story of the lilac bush and the pan flute. Van Gogh painted The Lilac Bush in 1889, and Claude Monet painted multiple works featuring lilacs.
In New Hampshire, the lilac is the state flower. There, it’s said to symbolize the state residents’ hardy disposition.
Suitable Gifting Occasions for Lilac Flowers
Thanks to their heady scent and multiple symbolic meanings, this beautiful flower makes an appropriate gift for many occasions. Lilacs are perfect for anniversaries, and are, in fact, the “official” flower of the 8th anniversary.
Purple lilacs make wonderful floral gifts to express love, while white lilacs are ideal for a wedding. Light blue lilacs offer a pick-me-up for any occasion.
How to Care for Fresh Cut Lilac Flowers
To keep cut lilacs fresh, use a sharp knife to cut stems above a bud, leaf, or stem at the desired length. Fill a vase with warm tap or distilled water, and add a floral preservative if desired.
Keeping the stems submerged so as not to expose them to the air, cut off any leaves or branching stems that will remain underwater. Next, use the knife to make an “x” at the end of each woody branch. Cut from 1 to 4 inches deep, so the branch splits slightly.
Transfer the stems to the prepared vase. Display the flowers out of direct sunlight and away from drafts. If possible, place them in the refrigerator at night. When the vase water looks cloudy, cut off half an inch of stem and replace it with fresh water.
With intriguing mythology that matches their colorful flowers, lilacs add interest to any garden or floral gift. Long treasured for their sweet, heady scent, these lovely flowers herald the advent of spring while symbolizing love, romance, youth, joy, and confidence.
Lilac Flowers FAQ:
What does a lilac symbolize?
Traditionally, in the language of flowers, lilacs stand for the joy of youth. They’re also a common symbol of love, and in many regions of the world symbolize the changing of the seasons.
What does a lilac tattoo mean?
A lilac flower tattoo is a popular symbol of love, and romance with the individual chosen color covering additional symbolic meanings.
What are lilac flowers called?
The lilac’s scientific name is Syringa which comes from the Greek word for “tube” or “pipe” (styrix) and is believed to refer to the plant’s hollow stems.
Where do lilacs grow best?
Lilacs thrive in slightly alkaline, well-draining, and fertile soil bases in full sun exposure.
Which lilac is most fragrant?
The species Syringa pubescens (native to Korea and parts of China) is widely considered to produce the most fragrant lilac flowers.
Madison is a writer and editor with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science. She writes and photographs for various online and print publications in the gardening sphere and is the author of the book The Next-Generation Gardener.
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