If you live in a temperate zone, take a look around at nearby parks and gardens. Chances are you’ll encounter lilacs, a very popular deciduous shrub or small tree, whose beautiful and often fragrant purple flowers have long made it a welcome addition to any landscape. With approximately 25 species, the lilac is a member of the olive family and is native to Europe and Asia. But the plant has taken root—literally as well as in the hearts of flower enthusiasts—throughout North America. Both New Hampshire and Idaho have claimed the lilac as their state flower.
When looking at pictures of lilacs, the most distinctive feature of the flower is that its blossoms grow in panicles—dense clusters of flowers that cling to the branch. Although the flower’s name indicates the most common color of the flower—a soft shade of purple or violet—the lilac also grows in pink, white, pale yellow, and a bold burgundy.
Culturally, the lilac carries strong associations with the rebirth symbolized in springtime. In Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Cyprus, and Lebanon, the lilac is closely tied to Easter and is used as part of religious observances there. Perhaps this is why, according to the language of flowers, the lilac is often given as an expression of new love or young love—it is an emblem of the springtime of life, when young lovers discover the excitement of romance. According to tradition, a gift of purple lilacs communicates the first emotion of love. That is, it is an appropriate gift for a beloved who has suddenly captured the lover’s heart. White lilacs, on the other hand, signal youthful innocence, making it an appropriate gift for honoring a chaste romance. Of course, with their lovely, clustered blossoms and perfumed fragrance, the gift of a bouquet of fresh, cut lilacs is welcome for nearly any occasion.