Known for its intoxicating fragrance and beautiful appearance, the lilac is a common flower with a powerful hidden meaning.
Although there are more than twenty species of lilac flower around the world, its symbolism holds true regardless of the type.
What Does Lilac Mean?
The scientific name for lilac, Syringa vulgaris, is derived from the Greek word, “syrinks.” This translates loosely to the word “pipe.”
The common name, lilac, was derived from the Spanish and French words of the same name. The Arabic word for the flower is also “lilak.” All of these derivations refer to the pale purple color of the flowers.
Now, let’s dig a bit deeper into what this flower means culturally.
What is the Cultural Significance of the Lilac?
The lilac has a deep history that is, as with many flowers, rooted in Greek mythology. The myth goes that Pan, the god of fields and forests, fell hard in love for the nymph Syringa. Syringa was eventually forced to turn herself into a lilac shrub to protect and disguise herself from Pan’s advances.
Although Pan was unable to locate Syringa, he did, of course, find the shrub. He cut the reeds of the shrub and created the first original panpipe from these reeds.
A deeply-rooted part of Mediterranean culture, lilacs are believed to have originated in southeastern Europe. They are often associated with the Easter season, as they bloom during this time.
The Celts believed that the lilac had magical powers due to its overpowering fragrance, while the Victorians thought that giving someone a lilac indicated an old, often bygone love. Widows frequently wore the flowers to commemorate their lost husbands.
Russians believed that holding a lilac blossom over a newborn could help bring the child lasting wisdom, while in the United States, the lilac flower is the state flower of New Hampshire. Here, it’s often used to symbolize the tough, hardy nature of its people.
The lilac is a flower that has truly stood the test of time through art and poetry. The American poet Walt Whitman frequently references lilacs in his poems, and makes a special testament to the flower in his poem, “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d,” a poem in which the lilac serves as a symbol of life after death in Abraham Lincoln’s final days.
Both Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh were also known for their famous depiction of the lilac in their paintings.
What Does the Lilac Flower Symbolize?
The lilac shrub has one of the earliest bloom times in the spring, so many people view the plant as a symbol of fresh starts, of spring, and of renewal. The flower can also symbolize confidence, love, and romance.
What Does a Traditionally-Colored Lilac Flower Symbolize?
Lilac flowers are usually found in shades of magenta or, of course, lilac. While a classic lilac will symbolize first love and romance, one that is blue or magenta in color can represent anything from love and passion to tranquility and happiness. Violet-colored lilies usually symbolize spirituality and fresh beginnings.
What Does a White Lilac Mean?
Though less common than purple or pink lilacs, a white lilac can be used to symbolize purity, divinity, and innocence.
What is the Symbolism of a Lilac Flower Tattoo?
Lilacs have many meanings when they are chosen as tattoos. In fact, a single tattoo could easily have more than one meaning! Lilacs almost always symbolize love and romance, but often take on an even deeper meaning than that. This flower can refer to old or lost love, too, and is often chosen by widows or widowers.
When Should You Give Someone a Lilac Flower?
The lilac is the official flower for a couple’s eighth wedding anniversary, so it is a great choice as a flower for this occasion. Since it has such a short bloom time in the early spring, it is often given in a bouquet during this time. The lilac’s sweet, powerful fragrance makes it a wonderful choice for just about any event or commemoration.
See more: What to plant with lilacs
*Photo by Valerii_Honcharuk/depositphotos