Type species: Syringa vulgaris
Related: olive, ash, jasmine, forsythia, privet
Description: Small tree, between 2- 10 m in height. The leaves are simple heart-shaped in most species, though some also have pinnate foliage. The flowers are about 1 cm in diameter and form large panicles. They are strongly fragrant in most species and come in colors ranging from purple to white or yellow and dark burgundy. The fruit is a brown capsule, which eventually bursts, releasing two winged seeds. A perfume is extracted from the flowers and used commercially and lilac flowers were once used to treat fever.
Name and myth: Syrinx was a nymph beloved by Pan, who was obsessed with her. Chased by Pan, Syringa escaped by transforming into reeds. Pan cut the reeds and made his first pipe from them. The name Syringa comes from Greek syrinks, meaning “pipe”. The broad pith in the shoots in some species, is easily hollowed out and has been used since ancient times to make reed pipes and flutes.
The English common name “lilac” is from the French lilac, via Arabic ليلك lilak and Persian نیلک nilak meaning “bluish”.
Folklore: Lilac (and other fragrant flowers) were used to mask the smell of a dead body. Lilac, especially the rarer white lilac, was also a flower of mourning. Widows would change from wearing black to wearing purple when a year had passed since the death of their spouse. Because of the associations with death and the deceased it is considered bad luck to bring the flowers inside one’s home. On the other hand lilac flowers are used in exorcism and for clearing a haunted house and it is believed a lilac tree planted or lilac strewn around the property protects from harm and drives away ghosts.
In some countries lilac announces the arrival of spring and is deeply connected to the festival of Ostara/Easter. In Greece, Lebanon, and Cyprus, the lilac is strongly associated with Easter time because it flowers around that time; it is consequently called paschalia, from the Hebrew word pasha, meaning “passage”.
The sweet fragrant smell is said to attract fairies, especially forest spirits and tree nymphs (dryads) . The god Pan plays on a flute made of lilac wood.
Language of flowers: purple lilac flowers represent first love, white lilac flowers represent innocence
Magical uses: exorcism, removing ghosts, protection, cleansing, blessing, love and lust spells, youthfulness, beauty, clairvoyance, divination, intelligence, creativity, happiness, harmony, fairy and forest magic, past life memory
Planet, element: Venus, air and water
Propagation and plant care: via cuttings or seed. Unpruned lilac trees produce more flowers than pruned trees. Pruning may cause the tree to produce a lot of green shoots but less or no flowers.
- What Is the Meaning of the Lilac Flower? | Garden Guides
- Wikipedia: Syringa
- Scott Cunningham, Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs
- Magical recipes online: Lilac, the tree of life
- Dragonoak website: Lilac Wood
- Joel’s Sacred Grove: Lilac