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Known for its vibrant color and intoxicating fragrance, lilies are trumpet-shaped flowers with narrow leaves. Lilies are among the most popular flowers with history, and cultural and literary references going back hundreds of years. Here’s a look at the significance of lilies and why they’re loved by gardeners, florists, and brides today.
About the Lily Flower
Native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, lilies are part of the genus Lilium of the Liliaceae family. Lilies are among the oldest cultivated plants. The name of the flower has pre-classical origins, with its name derived from the Greek leirion and the Roman lilium.
Grown from bulbs, the flower comes in many beautiful colors, such as white, orange, yellow, and red, with six petals and six anthers. In fact, there are around 90 lily species around the world, and most of them grow around 2 to 6 feet. Some types tend to bloom in late spring, while others in early summer or fall.
Interesting fact: Not all flowers named lily are true lilies. Some are water lilies, calla lilies, lilies-of-the-valley, peace lilies, and daylilies. To be a true lily, the flower must belong to the genus Lilium, and be grown from bulbs.
Meaning and Symbolism of Lilies
Lilies come in a rainbow of colorful flowers, and their symbolic meaning depends on their color. Here are some of them:
- White lilies symbolize purity, modesty, and majesty.
- Orange lilies sometimes represent passion and desire, but they can also symbolize dislike, hatred, and revenge.
- Yellow lilies symbolize gratitude and happiness, but in some cultures they have negative associations such as falsehood and lies.
- Red lilies represent youth and sweetness.
Since lilies are of different hybrids and types, their significance also varies. Here are the meanings and symbolisms of the flower according to its type:
- Madonna Lily (Lilium candidum) – This variety symbolizes purity, which is why the flower took a more illustrious role in medieval images of Virgin Mary and was used as decorations in King Solomon’s Temple. This is where it gets its name from – Madonna. Adorning a woman with lilies during the Victorian era was regarded the highest form of compliment.
- American Tiger Lily (Lilium superbum) – Known for its orange petals and dark spots, the flower symbolizes wealth and pride.
- Trumpet Lily (Lilium longiflorum) – The flower represents purity, and many believe it has magical powers of protection and luck. Legend also says that it grew from Eve’s tears when she left the Garden of Eden. Sometimes, it’s also called as Snow Queen, Jacob’s Tears, or Ladder to Heaven.
- Chinese Lily (Lilium speciosum) – The flower symbolizes good luck, due to its association with the old proverb, “If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily.”
- Wild Yellow Lily (Lilium canadense) – Also known as Canada Lily, it represents humility.
- Oriental Lily (Lilium auratum) – It symbolizes the purity of heart, and is sometimes called as golden rayed lily or goldband lily. It’s also regarded as the tallest of all Lilium flowers.
- Royal Lily (Lilium regale) – Due to its fragrant scent and imposing look, the flower represents regal beauty.
- Columbia Lily (Lilium columbianum) – It’s associated with wealth and prosperity, and many believe it has protective powers.
Also, lilies have different associations in different cultures and religion:
- To ancient Babylonians and Assyrians, the flower is associated with Ishtar, the goddess of war and fertility.
- In Greece, lilies symbolize motherhood or rebirth, because of its mythological association with Hera, whom Zeus asked to breastfeed his son, Hercules so that he would become immortal. The drops of milk that fell to the ground became lily flowers.
- In Christianity, the flower, especially the Madonna Lilies, is associated with the Virgin Mary.
- In China, lilies represent 100 years of love, making them a popular wedding flower, as well as a symbol of good luck.
Uses of the Lily Flower throughout History
- In Magic and Rituals
Lilies became associated with exorcism, as the flower was thought to ward off evil spirits. Some also believed that carrying the flower would break a love spell or eliminate negative emotions.
- In Beauty
Floral-based perfumes were loved by the ancient Egyptians. Some perfumes were created with 2,000 lily flowers, especially the Lilium candidum, used along with wine, salt, honey, cinnamon, and balanos oil.
- In Medicine
Lily bulbs and roots have been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times. It’s thought the Roman soldiers used the juice of its bulbs to treat corns. Also, lilies were mixed with honey to treat snakebites and heal infections.
- In Fashion
Lily’s are often worn as accessories, in hair combs or brooches, as well as jewelry. The shape of the flower is popular in earrings, pendants and rings.
The Lilies in Use Today
Nowadays, lilies are a common flower choice in woodland gardens, flower borders and potted plants, as they’re colorful and attract butterflies. Some of the most popular varieties include the Oriental and Trumpet lilies with a strong fragrance that won’t disappoint gardeners.
In weddings, white lilies, particularly Casablanca lilies, are a popular choice for bridal bouquets, while colorful lilies are used in flower arrangements. Also, it’s the perfect flower for the 30th wedding anniversary, reminding the couple of their love and commitment.
In China, some species of the flower with edible bulbs such as the Lilium dauricum and Lilium brownii are used in soups, dumplings, stir-fried and cold dishes. During Easter celebrations, lilies decorate homes and church sanctuaries. No wonder, the flower, Lilium longiflorum is also called the Easter lily.
Once a potent ancient symbol, lilies remain a representation of purity, passion, and happiness. They’re one of the most beloved flowers for weddings and celebrations, and a perfect addition in summer gardens.