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Symbolism & meaning of the lily

3 min read
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The gorgeous lily is an amazing example of the ingenuity of Mother Nature. These delicate looking flowers are actually quite a hardy and solid plant (however, the flowers do bruise if treated roughly), making them a favourite of florists and flower growers the world over. In fact, the lily is ranked as the fourth most popular flower on a global scale – a testament to their enduring status of quality and beauty.


The stunningly beautiful Lilium is a genus of plant that is easily recognised by its large, distinct flowers and prominent stamens. These amazing bulb-grown flowering herbs are grouped into the more commonly known categories of Asiatic Lilies, Oriental Lilies, Tiger Lilies, Trumpet Lilies and Turks Cap Lilies. Many of the species are native to moderate climate areas of the Northern Hemisphere and the subtropical north, but are now grown worldwide. The colour scale of lilies ranges from pure white to a deep, dark burgundy, meaning you can find almost any colour of lily, besides green and blue. The Oriental lily has the heaviest scent of all species.

The lily derives its name from the Latin word, lilium, which in turn, was derived from the Greek word, leirion. In Greek and Roman mythology, the lily is strongly associated with the goddess Hera (Juno in Roman), when the first snow-white lily sprouted from drops of milk spilled from her breast, after she nursed Heracles. Another early reference tells of how Venus – after rising from the ocean waters – spotted a lily and became jealous of its beauty. In her jealousy, she created a pistil and added it to the flower, in order to mar its perfection.

Traditionally, lilies were used as a source of medicine and food, with the ancient Romans using lily bulb juice for treating corns and the Chinese using the bulbs as an ingredient in soups and stir-fries – a practice still used today. Generally though, lilies were revered in ancient times for the same reason they are today – for their outstanding beauty and alluring scent!

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From these early uses and stories – which date back to 1580 B.C. – particular meanings were attributed to the lily, with the ancient Greeks and Romans believing the lily represented purity, innocence, fertility and eroticism, as well as virtue, chastity and prosperity. During Medieval times, the elegant lily was considered a sign of feminine fertility, and it was said that if you offered a mother-to-be a rose and a lily, her choice would determine the gender of her child – a rose for a girl and a lily for a boy.  In religion, the lily is extremely revered. Christians believe the lily to be a symbol of purity and chastity, due to its association with the Virgin Mary, whose tomb was adorned with them. This is also where the lily’s association with funerals stems from, as their use represents the soul’s departure and restoration to a pure, innocent form after death. The Anglican churches in England often incorporate lilies into their crucifixes, which is said to represent Jesus’ annunciation and crucifixion. The petals and sepals of a lily always occur in groups of three, which are often used to depict the Holy Trinity. Another significance of this grouping of three is the reference from Byzantium and France, who associated the lily with the Fleur-de-Lis. Finally, in Buddhism, the lily represents female aggressiveness, mercy and compassion.

Interflora’s range of lilies include a stunning array of colours and arrangements, ensuring you will have no trouble finding the perfect gift for that special occasion. Whichever meaning you attribute to this gorgeous flower, a fresh lily delivery from Interflora is sure to make your loved one smile.

Interflora Australia has been operating across our country since 1954. Originally based in Adelaide, South Australia, we now operate out of Interflora House in Melbourne, Victoria. Interflora Australia is 100% Australian owned - via a licensing agreement, issued to us from Interflora in the United Kingdom...