Syringa vulgaris – better known as the common lilac – is a substantially-sized, deciduous shrub species which grows in the oleaceae family. Although moderate in their rate of growth, these plants can reach heights of 15 feet and widths of 12 feet upon maturity. The flowers of this fragrant shrub are made up of 4 to 7 inch terminal clusters that may appear in shades of purple, dusky rose, light pink or white. The foliage takes on a distinctive heart shape, is entire, simple, broad and 2 to 5 inches in length.
Syringa vulgaris, with its potent beauty and enchanting fragrance, has been a source of inspiration for artists and authors for ages. In the T.S. Eliot poem, “Portrait of a Lady,” lilacs are used to ease the lady’s frustration; in both, “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d” and “Warble for Lilac-Time,” Walt Whitman uses the lilac bush to describe the enduring nature of spring; “Lilacs” by Vincent van Gogh is a slightly muted, but realistic reproduction of a syringa vulgaris shrub beside a lake; while Claude Monet’s “Resting Under the Lilacs” features a bright scene of three people sitting calmly under pink, blooming shrubs. In addition to art, lilacs have found a place in mythology and folklore. In Greek myth, a stunning nymph named Syrinx caught the eye of the god of fields and forests, Pan. The nymph was unmoved by his affections, but Pan was not to be turned away. He chased her until she became exhausted. To hide from the amorous nature god, Syrinx turned herself into the lilac shrub. Superstitious beliefs also follow the lilac. It was once thought that bringing even a small clipping of this shrub into the house could cause a rash of bad luck; in Russia, cradling a newborn baby beneath this plant will give it wisdom; while a lilac blossom that carries an odd number of petals is extremely lucky.
Syringa vulgaris is best known as a symbol for love; however, the color can be used to express just what type of love. For instance, the classic purple lilac represents new love, while white represents innocent love. In general, though, lilacs symbolize youth, pride and beauty. As a gift, these plants are commonly traded between lovers – both new and old; in fact, they are the traditional flower for 8th wedding anniversaries. Although most people like to give these plants in bouquets, they can also be presented in gift baskets, or as potted plants.