Lilac Flower Meaning and Symbolism

Lilac flowers are admired across the world for their instantly recognizable and intoxicating scent, as well as the myriad of tiny blooms this plant produces in clusters.

Lilacs are part of the Oleaceae genus, which is the olive family. 

The plant itself has naturalized all over the world, but it has the benefit of not being invasive or detrimental to native plants or wildlife, unlike many other plants that have been introduced to foreign lands. 

What does ‘Lilac’ Mean?

The word lilac comes from the French word lilac, which has been derived from the Arabic ليلك which means “lilak”, and this comes from the Persian word نیلک, which translate to “bluish”. 

While you’ll be familiar with the name lilac, you might be less familiar with its scientific name, which is less well-known. 

Syringa vulgaris comes from Ancient Greek. Syringa comes from the word syrinx which translates to “tube”, referring to the branches of the lilac tree, which are hollow. Vulgaris translates to “common.”

What is the Cultural Significance Behind the Lilac Flower?

In Classical Greek myth, a nymph named Syrinx was being pursued by the god Pan, who desired her. She was a follower of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, the moon, and chastity. 

In desperation, she ran to the edge of a river and asked for help from river nymphs. In order for her to escape Pan’s advances, they turned her into hollow water reeds. 

The reeds themselves made a “haunting” sound as Pan’s frustrated sigh washed over them.

Pan cut them, and invented the pan pipes, which were then known as syrinx.

The lilac comes from the Balkan Peninsula, and became known in Northern Europe in the late 1500s, and has since been naturalized throughout the world. 

Lilacs are often linked to the Easter holiday in warmer countries, as they often bloom during this time in Greece, Cyprus, Macedonia, and Lebanon. 

In the Victorian language of flowers, lilacs often represented a first love, and it was often worn by widows at funerals. The Celts associated the potent fragrance with the flower having magical properties. 

In New Hampshire in the United States, the lilac is the state flower, as it represents the hardy character of the people who live there. 

Lilacs have also been the subjects of famous paintings, by artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet, which has helped their popularity. 

The lilac flower has also appeared heavily in a poem called “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d,” a poem by Walt Whitman, who wrote it to express his sadness of the death of President Abraham Lincoln. 

There are also several festivals held throughout North America to celebrate the different varieties, usually including a parade. 

What Do Lilac Flowers Represent?

As lilacs appear in very early spring, the flowers are often associated with new chances, beginnings, spring, and rebirth. It’s also been used as a message of love, confidence, and first love, but like any flower, the meaning is also dependent on the color. 

What do Purple Lilac Flowers Mean?

Purple lilac flowers represent romance and a first love. The more blue-tinged lilacs symbolizes joy, peace, and love. The lighter shades of purple lilacs represent renewal, and spirituality.  

What does a White Lilac Flower Symbolize?

White lilacs, like many white flowers, represent spirituality, peace, purity, and innocence. 

What does a Lilac Flower Tattoo Mean?

Lilac flowers are an interesting subject when it comes to tattoos, and they can have multiple layers of meaning even within the one tattoo. 

Lilac flower tattoos usually represent a loved one, whether that’s a romantic love, a platonic love, or a relative. It’s used to convey the depth of your connection. 

Maybe knowing them has given you a chance to start again, like the spring after the depths of winter. 

As the flowers resemble love and a first love, they’re often used to commemorate someone who is no longer in your life, for one reason or another, but their effect on you has left its mark – you’re no longer the person you were before you met them – and the tattoo is a reminder of that. 

A lilac tattoo is also often used for a memorial piece, as the flower can symbolize a lost love. 

When Should You Give Someone a Lilac Flower?

The flowering period for a lilac is often short, but the flower is greatly valued for its appearance as well as its heady fragrance, which makes it a popular gift.

It’s often included in a spring bouquet, adding a lot of natural fragrance to any arrangement.

The lilac is also the traditional gift for an 8th wedding anniversary.

The lilac is a flower suitable for most occasions, with its range of color, and the abundance of tiny flowers in each cluster, you’ll be hard-pressed not to use them as a gift. 

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