For thousands of years, people have been developing a secret language of flowers. The combination of a flower type, fragrance, and color served as a coded message exchanged between partners, allies, and friends. This tradition gradually shaped into a discipline called floriography, an art of interpreting the language and symbolism of flowers. The first formal system of ascribing signs and meanings to flowers was developed in the Ottoman Turkey Empire. It finally shaped into a detailed and complex analysis during the Victorian era.
If you are contemplating the choice of fragrant lilacs as a gift, it would be wise to know some of the floriographic attributes traditionally assigned to this flower. The rich symbolism of the lilac flowers derives from many myths, legends and folk beliefs from all around the world.
Botanical name: Syringa vulgaris
Common names: Lilac, Common Lilac, French Lilac, Nila, Nilak, Paschalia, Laylock, Lilach
Etymology: Although lilac flowers can be found in several colors, the most common ones are in the shades of light blue, dark mauve and pale violet. The origin of this flower’s name is the old Persian word nilak (Arabic form: lilah), which stands for blue or bluish.
The fragrance: The lilac flower is undoubtedly one of the most fragrant garden flowers. Its scent is often described as sweet, dreamy, heavenly and mystical.
Color meaning of lilac flowers: Very often, the symbolic meaning of the lilac flowers depends on the color or the hue. Categorized by color, the traditional meanings of the lilac flower are listed below:
Purple: first love, beginning of love, infatuation, obsession, disappointment
White: youth, youthful innocence, candor, innocent love, guiltlessness, purity, chastity
Pink: acceptance, affection, companionship
Violet: spirituality, otherworldly existence, profoundness of the existence
Blue: bliss, peace, serenity, healing
Maroon: energy, life appreciation, celebrating life, passion
The attributed symbolism makes the purple lilac flowers an appropriate gift to someone you love or admire romantically. Violet lilacs are a perfect choice for someone with strong spiritual inclinations. White ones can be gifted on the occasion of the birth of a baby, or at a wedding.
The blue color’s calming effect makes blue lilacs a good choice for a friend or a relative who is recovering from illness or trauma. The magenta color should be reserved for only those who can accept our expression of passionate love. Magenta lilacs can also be used to make a bold ‘I still love you’ or ‘I still remember you’ statement. Pink lilac flowers are a safe option when it comes to friends, as they are generally devoid of any romantic connotations.
Lilac flowers as a funeral flower: The white lilac is sometimes known as a funeral flower, as it symbolizes purity of the soul. In one of his poems dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman used the lilac flower as a symbol of life after death. According to a British legend, a violet lilac was once planted at the grave of a young woman. Due to her innocence and purity, the shrub bloomed into white flowers.
However, it is not only the white lilac that has been used at funerals. In Ancient Rome, the lilac was known as a flower of mourning. Lilacs were placed in the tomb or the crypt of loved ones. In Christianity, the lilac flowers have been associated with Maria. An early Christian story tells that all lilacs used to be white, but they turned violet when Maria saw her the crucifixion of her son.
The myth of Pan and Syrinx: Purple lilac flowers are often perceived as a symbol of love. Based on the context, the meaning can range from an innocent youthful love to infatuation to even a dangerous obsession. The origin of this interpretation can be found in Greek mythology.
The Greek myth tells the love story of Pan, the God of nature and wilderness, and Syrinx, a chaste nymph. Mesmerized by her beauty, Pan attempted to pursue her. Syrinx fled through the forest, until she reached a river. When she begged the water nymphs for help, they transformed her into a stand of reeds. Pan, desperate at the loss of Syrinx, recognized her voice in the sound of the wind through the hollow reeds. He cut those long and hollow reeds, bound them together, and created the pan-pipe musical instrument. By playing the pan-pipe, he turned his unrequited love into a beautiful melody.
The genus name of the lilac flower, Syringa, comes from the Greek word ‘syrinx‘, meaning a pipe or a tube. The stems of the Syringa flower bush are hollow and reed-like. They resemble the reeds Pan found at the banks of the river in which his beloved Syrinx forever disappeared.
Lilac flowers as an anniversary gift: The lilac flower is the official flower to celebrate a couple’s eighth wedding anniversary. In this context, lilacs remind the couple of their youth, of their first romantic feelings, and of their innocent fondness towards one another.
The spiritual and magical symbolism of the lilac flowers: Your gift of violet lilac flowers will be particularly appreciated by someone who is on the spiritual path. They are also a good gift for your creative friends and acquaintances.
The violet hues of the lilac flowers are traditionally linked to religion and spirituality. In this context, lilacs are a portal to invisible worlds, and symbolize the soul’s journey from the realm of the conscious to the realms of the subconscious and the super-consciousness.
Lilacs are associated with the element of water, with benevolent spirits and with the world of fairies. Astrologically, lilacs have been linked to Mercury, Venus and the Moon. It is said that lilac flowers, kept at the bedside, can improve the quality of the sleep, and can assist in dream-work. The scent of the lilac flowers can also facilitate past-life regression. Certain magic rituals use both fresh and dried lilac flowers to attract good luck, break bad spells and attract love.
In feng shui, lilac flowers symbolize humility, patience and hope. Keeping fresh lilac flowers in the house brings positive and life-giving energy.
When kept at the worktable, these flowers can enhance one’s creativity. Many artists have found inspiration in the lilac flowers, including Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Walt Whitman.
Lilac flowers as a symbol of regeneration and new beginnings: The lilacs are spring flowers. They announce the beginning of a warmer period. Because of this, they are often thought of as a symbol of hope and new beginnings. Also, due to the plant’s hardiness, lilacs are a symbol of confidence and strength, necessary at key stages in life. Consequently, lilac flowers are often gifted at graduation parties. They are also a good gift when you wish to congratulate someone on a new job or a start of a new project.
Lilac flowers for consolation: There is a popular folk belief that when a lilac bush is cut down, all other bushes nearby will mourn the loss and stop blossoming. The scent of the lilac flower is known to possess therapeutic properties — it relaxes the mind and acts as an antidepressant. Based on this, a lilac flower can be a thoughtful gift for someone who has recently experienced loss.
The ‘seize the day’ message of the lilac flowers: The lilac flowers have relatively short blossoming time. For this reason, they are also used to convey the message about the brevity of life. One should cherish the good things (including a fleeting love), as long as they last. Lilacs can be gifted as a reminder not to lament over what is already lost, but rather to remember the past in a loving way.
The protective power of the lilac flowers: If your friend or loved one feels unlucky, jinxed or under the influence of negative energy, consider gifting them with lilac flowers. Across cultures, lilacs have been considered protective and purifying plants. In old times, people used to plant lilac bushes at places which they considered possessed by evil forces. Throughout history, there has been a widely spread belief that planting lilac bushes can bring good luck, and that a small bouquet of lilacs kept inside the house can repel ghosts. A lilac floret typically has four petals — A five-petalled lilac blossom is considered particularly lucky.
Lilac flowers make a wonderful gift for elderly people: It is said that the lilac flowers evoke a strong feeling of nostalgia. They remind us of an old house backyard, a happy childhood, and a slow-paced life. Lilacs are a symbol of longevity due to their hardy shrubs that live for more than a hundred years. This is one more reason to choose lilacs as a birthday gift for your grandparents or aging parents.
Lilac flowers as a quirky gift for your ‘culinary expert’ friend: Last but not least, lilac flowers are edible. Fresh lilac flowers can be added to salads and desserts. Making lilac sugar or lilac cocktail syrups is an interesting way to use the fragrant lilac blossoms. Lilac flowers are also used to garnish your food. Next time you pay a visit to your ‘chef’ friend, bring along some fresh lilac blossoms, and indulge in culinary creativity.