Learn the Beautiful Meaning of Lilac & Its Symbolism

You'll have a whole new appreciation for the lilac once you know its meaning. Think nostalgia, new love, and cool mythology.

Published January 14, 2023
Closeup of common Lilac

There's nothing like the smell of lilacs to call up memories of collecting blooms as a kid or playing by those tall bushes in your grandma's backyard. The meaning of lilacs can be deeply personal, but there are also some historical and cultural symbols and meanings that can add to your enjoyment of a bouquet.

Every Color of Lilac Means Something

You know how the Victorians liked to give bouquets that had super secret and nuanced meanings? A lot of that flower symbolism had to do with the color of each bloom. A red rose didn't mean the same thing as a white rose, and this color significance is true for lilac meanings as well. If you're planting a new bush in your backyard or giving a bouquet to a friend, it's nice to know a bit about what each color means.

Lilac Color Meaning
Purple New love
White Youthful innocence
Blue or violet Peace
Pink or magenta Passion
Yellow Childhood and nostalgia

Purple Lilacs Mean New Love

A cluster of lilac flowers

Purples lilacs symbolize the first feelings of love, according to the 1884 book The Language of Flowers by Kate Greenaway. Give or plant purple lilacs to communicate new love, whether for a person, a new home, or something else.

White Lilacs Represent Youth

White Lilac Flowers

White lilacs mean youthful innocence in The Language of Flowers. This makes them a perfect companion for purple, as new love and youthful innocence go very well together.

Blue or Violet Lilacs Stand for Contentment

purple flowering plants

Some types of lilacs have lovely blue or bluish-purple flowers, and they can offer a subtly different meaning. Plant or give blue or bluish-purple lilacs to communicate calmness and contentment.

Magenta and Pink Lilacs Mean Passion

Spring collection of holiday cards with pink, lilac early flowers

Rarer than the common white or purple varieties, magenta and pink lilacs can mean passion or intense love. This may be due to their rarer and more intense hues, but also the addition of red tones can bring some extra warmth.

Yellow Lilacs May Stand For Nostalgia

Yellow blooming lilacs

Because yellow lilacs, named "primrose lilacs," are a fairly new variety, their meaning is open to interpretation. In The Language of Flowers, primroses represent early youth or childhood. This rare yellow lilac could represent nostalgia.

Lilacs Meanings Are Related to History and Culture

The meaning of lilacs doesn't just depend on the color, but on the context of the culture where they are growing or being given as gifts. It's fun to learn a little about what they mean in myth, literature, and cultures around the world.

Greek Mythology - Strength and Resistance

The Latin name for lilac is Syringa, which is probably a reference to an Ancient Greek myth first written down in Metamorphosis. In the story, a nymph named Syrinx is being chased by the god Pan, who is in love with her. To disguise herself, she asks her nymph sisters to turn her into reeds. Pan then uses these reeds to make the pan pipe, an instrument associated with him.

While a lilac bush doesn't exactly look like reeds or grow in the same conditions, the name likely comes from the myth. In the story, Syrinx resists Pan, so lilacs could be seen as a symbol of strength and resistance.

American Literature - Nostalgia

The famous American poet Walt Whitman wrote a poem to remember the death of Abraham Lincoln called "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." The poem is deeply mournful, and the lilacs, while a symbol of springtime and rebirth, are also a symbol of loss.

Whitman uses the lilacs as an image to call up the springtime death of Lincoln and the sadness that brought, but also the general feeling of loss and beauty intertwined. That feeling can be described as nostalgia.

Russian Folklore - Good Luck

A Russian folk belief may involve the lilac. The story goes that it brings good luck to a baby if you cut a sprig of lilac in the spring and hold the flower above the baby's head. Although the source of this legend is unclear, it's a lovely idea.

Celtic Legend - Magic

Like the Russian folk belief, there's no good source to support the idea that the Ancient Celts had myths or legends around lilacs. However, many people believe the Celts saw the lilac as a symbol of magic due to their lovely and powerful perfume.

Common Themes in the Meaning of Lilacs

If you're seeing a pattern here, you're not imagining things. There's a reason many lilac meanings refer to nostalgia, memory, and youth. Researchers have discovered that the parts of the brain responsible for processing scent, assigning emotion, and accessing memory are very closely linked. Lilac is one of those scents - very strong and closely tied to emotion. If you think of happy childhood memories or your first love when you smell this beautiful flower, this may be why.

Need to Know

If you're giving a lilac plant, the best time to do it is in the fall. Lilacs respond well to planting during this time. If you're giving cut flowers, go for early in the blooming season to allow maximum enjoyment of the blooms as they open.

No Wrong Interpretations

Lilacs can symbolize different things, depending on their color, your cultural interpretation, and even the memories you have associated with them. Ultimately, what they mean is completely up to you. From nostalgia to new love, there's no wrong way to interpret this beautiful blossom.

Learn the Beautiful Meaning of Lilac & Its Symbolism