Lilac

This Week’s Featured Flower is the lilac. If you’ve never smelled a lilac, drop everything and make this your top priority. Not only do these flowering trees smell amazing, but their conical blooms are the dreamiest. They are typically either white, lavender, or magenta. They tend to grow best in colder climates like ours in Chicago (#blessed). Here, they bloom in May.

Lilacs originally come from Persia and were introduced to the English through the ottoman empire. According to A General History of Dichlamydeous Plants, by George Don (published 1838), the lilac gets its name from lilag, the Persian word for flower. The Language of Flowers cites the purple lilac as meaning “first emotions of love” and the white as meaning “youthful innocence.”

Lilacs also have an interesting connection to classical myth. One day, the nymph Syrinx was being chased by the god Pan. Approaching a river, Syrinx asked for assistance from river nymphs, who changed her into a bunch of reeds. Pan then used these reeds to create the pan-pipe, or syrinx. Here is Ovid’s account from the Metamorphoses, Book 1:

“Then Hermes thus: A nymph of late there was

Whose heav’nly form her fellows did surpass.

The pride and joy of fair Arcadia’s plains,

Belov’d by deities, ador’d by swains:

Syrinx her name, by Sylvans oft pursu’d,

As oft she did the lustful Gods delude:

The rural, and the woodland Pow’rs disdain’d;

With Cynthia hunted, and her rites maintain’d:

Like Phoebe clad, even Phoebe’s self she seems,

So tall, so streight, such well-proportion’d limbs:

The nicest eye did no distinction know,

But that the goddess bore a golden bow:

Distinguish’d thus, the sight she cheated too.

Descending from Lycaeus, Pan admires

The matchless nymph, and burns with new desires.

A crown of pine upon his head he wore;

And thus began her pity to implore.

But e’er he thus began, she took her flight

So swift, she was already out of sight.

Nor stay’d to hear the courtship of the God;

But bent her course to Ladon’s gentle flood:

There by the river stopt, and tir’d before;

Relief from water nymphs her pray’rs implore.



Now while the lustful God, with speedy pace,

Just thought to strain her in a strict embrace,

He fill’d his arms with reeds, new rising on the place.

And while he sighs, his ill success to find,

The tender canes were shaken by the wind;

And breath’d a mournful air, unheard before;

That much surprizing Pan, yet pleas’d him more.

Admiring this new musick, Thou, he said,

Who canst not be the partner of my bed,

At least shall be the confort of my mind:

And often, often to my lips be joyn’d.

He form’d the reeds, proportion’d as they are,

Unequal in their length, and wax’d with care,

They still retain the name of his ungrateful fair.”

 

The genus name of the lilac is syringa, from the Greek word syrinx (sound familiar?). Syrinx is defined by etymonline.com as “tube, hold, channel, shepherd’s pipe," assigned no doubt due to the soft, spongy pith inside the woody stalk. It is thought that perhaps the stems of lilacs might have been hollowed out to make pipes or flutes similar to the panpipe.

So now that you’re all jazzed about lilacs, you may need to curb your enthusiasm. These are very rare to find in a typical florists shops because they don’t ship well. But since our flowers are grown not flown here at Persephone, we can offer them to you in the month of May.

xx,

Persephone