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After the gloomy winter, lilacs welcome the spring with their beautiful flowers and sweet fragrance. Their cone-shaped floral clusters make them the star of the season, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. Here’s what to know about this traditional bloom and its significance today.
About Lilac Flowers
Native to Eastern Europe and some regions in Asia with cool summers, lilac is the flowering shrub from the Syringa genus of the Oleaceae or olive family. They love cold weather, especially long winters, and bloom only a few weeks in the late spring.
These dainty-looking flowers are loved for their oval clusters of purple blooms and intoxicating scent. Ironically, the name lilac is derived from the Persian term lilak and the Arabic word laylak that means blue.
Lilac comes in several varieties. Its Persian variety has white and pale lavender hues, while the S. reflexa is most recognized for its pinkish blooms.
With so many different types of lilacs, you can find the perfect one to decorate your landscape! Some even feature two colors you can enjoy. However, not all lilacs are fragrant, especially the Hungarian variety with bluish purple flowers. While the common lilac, S. vulgaris, can grow up to 6 meters feet in height, others can only reach about 2 to 4 meters tall.
- Interesting Fact: Since the common lilac grows tall, many call them lilac trees. However, they shouldn’t be confused with the Chinese lilacs and the Japanese lilacs, which are regarded as the true tree lilacs. Also, the wild lilac or the California lilac doesn’t belong to the olive family, but to the Ceanothus genus of the buckthorn family.
The Lilac in Greek Mythology
According to Greek myth, Pan, the god of the forest, was captivated by the beauty of the wood nymph named Syringa. Unfortunately, she didn’t have any romantic interest in him. One day, Pan was chasing the nymph, but she managed to escape by turning herself into a beautiful lilac flower.
When he searched for her, he only saw the flowering shrub. Pan discovered it had strong, hollow stems, so he decided to create a panpipe out of them. This is why the lilac that we know today is also called as Syringa vulgaris, which is derived from the Greek term syrinks that means pipe.
Meaning and Symbolism of Lilac in Art
The lilac is popular in various works of art, and has gained various associations. Here are some of them:
- First Emotions of Love – The symbolic meaning of the bloom is evident in the painting Apple Blossoms, also known as Spring, by John Everett Millais in 1859. It depicts a group of young girls in an apple orchard, where one of them has lilac flowers in her hair. Many believe that the flower signifies the girl’s first emotions of love.
- Youthful Innocence – In the novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, the beautiful and naive girl named Dora stands under a lilac tree, when Copperfield gave her a bouquet of flowers. This can be said to emphasize her youthful innocence and lack of experience.
- Memory – In Victorian times, when flowers were used to express messages, lilac could be interpreted as saying, “Remember me,” which makes it a perfect reminder of a young love. It’s also a sincere way to ask, “Do you still love me?” It’s thought that when lilacs are burned, their fragrance will endure in the smoke, reminding you of sweet, special memories.
- Beauty and Pride – These blooms are ethereal and fragrant, making them the perfect representation of beauty.
- Other Meanings – In some contexts, the flower can also be associated with humility, fraternal love, and even disappointment.
In the Victorian language of flowers, here are the symbolic meanings of lilac according to its color:
- Purple lilacs symbolize first love, as well as infatuation and obsession.
- Pink lilacs represent youth and acceptance.
- White lilacs are associated with pure emotions and modesty.
Uses of Lilac Flower throughout History
Although most commonly used as an ornamental plant, lilac is also known for its aromatic and medicinal uses.
In Magic and Superstitions
Did you know the Celtics regarded the bloom as magical because of its intoxicating scent? In rituals, it’s commonly used to connect with the beauty and wonder of divinity. In some cultures, lilac is believed to have protective powers for warding off evil spirits.
Some even wear lilac as an amulet, burn dried lilacs as incense, and sprinkle the petals around their homes to dispel negative energies.
It’s a tradition in Russia to hold a sprig of lilac over newborns, in hopes of showering them with wisdom.
It’s fascinating that lilac is regarded as one of the 50 fundamental herbs of Chinese medicine. In fact, the flower has antiseptic qualities and can be made into a tonic to relieve cough and constipation. Their oils can also be utilized as herbal remedy for bacterial infections, skin diseases, rashes and cuts.
During springtime, lilac fills the garden with relaxing, sweet scent. No wonder the essential oil from the flowers is commonly incorporated in perfumes, soaps, bubble baths and cosmetics. Since they have astringent properties, they’re commonly made into cold infusions to use as a toner for the face.
In Arts and Literature
In 1872, French painter Claude Monet highlighted the beauty of the bloom in his paintings Lilacs in the Sun and Lilacs, Grey Weather. Also, Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh depicted the flowers in his Lilac Bush painting in 1889.
As an elegy to Abraham Lincoln, American poet Walt Whitman wrote the long poem When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, which narrates the last days of the beloved president.
In New York, the Rochester Lilac Festival celebrated annually in early May. Also, the Lilac Sunday festival is celebrated in Boston, Massachusetts, where the botanical garden boasts its collection of different lilac plants.
The Lilac Flower in Use Today
These flowering shrubs might bloom only for a short period of time in spring, but they’re still beautiful accent plants in the landscape. If you don’t have space for big flowering bushes, think of dwarf lilac varieties you can grow in pots.
For spring weddings, lilacs make great filler flowers in posies, floral crowns and centerpieces. They’ll surely look dreamy in any arrangement, complementing your theme, bridesmaids’ dresses, and even the cake. Lilacs also pair well with tulips and lavender.
When to Give Lilac Flowers
Since these purple blooms are associated with romance, lilacs can be the perfect choice for proposal flowers. Did you know they’re also regarded as the 8th wedding anniversary bloom? A bouquet of lilacs is one of the sweetest ways to remind your spouse of your first emotions of love. If you’re looking for a thoughtful gift to send to a couple celebrating their anniversary, look no further as the bloom speaks for itself.
Lilacs are one of the hallmarks of spring, adding sweet fragrance and beauty to the season. As we have seen, they’re more than just pretty flowers. As a symbol of youthful innocence and first emotions of love, they’ll also fill your home with romance.