Lily flower meanings include beauty, purity, fertility, transformation, rebirth, and devotion. The beauty of this flower has inspired the work of writers and artists for centuries. In fact, the lily is considered to be so perfect that it inspired the saying – “gilding the lily” – to express overdoing something because the lily is already perfect as it is. In this post, you’ll learn about lily symbols and meanings, including spiritual and color meanings. Plus, you’ll get lily planting tips and more.
What do lilies mean?
Here are some commonly shared qualities that the lily represents:
- Transformation and Rebirth
The naturalist John Muir wrote about the lily:
“So extraordinary is nature with her choicest treasures, spending plant beauty as she spends sunshine, pouring it forth into land and sea, garden and desert. And so the beauty of lilies falls on angels and men, bears and squirrels, wolves and sheep, birds and bees.”1
There are over 90 species of lilies and they can be found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Few would argue that they make the landscapes where they appear more beautiful. In fact, they are symbols of beauty, which is probably why the name Lily is a very popular name for girls.
In addition to beauty, the lily flower is also a symbol of purity, as well as chastity and virtue. Like the lotus flower, some species of lilies grow in murky environments. The lily starts as a bulb in the soil or mud, only to blossom brightly above the surface as if it has been cleansed. This is why the lily also symbolizes immaculacy.
The gift of a lily represents a pure heart and good intentions. It also symbolizes that no matter where you come from or what mistakes you’ve made in your past, there is the opportunity for redemption with pure intentions and good deeds.
As the lily flower transforms from a closed bud to a blossoming flower, they are reminiscent of a baby growing in a mother’s womb. So, the lily is also a symbol for fertility. Couples who want to conceive can meditate on the lily. In addition, they can have them around their home and in their garden to bring calm, positive energy to help them conceive.
Transformation and Rebirth
Lilies are often given to the grieving and at memorial services to honor a loved one who has passed. This is why these flowers are associated with grief. However, lily flower meaning represents something deeper – transformation and rebirth.
After all, death is the transition from the Earthly, material plane to the spiritual plane. As a lily emerges from water or the soil and its bud begins to open, it symbolizes the cycle of life and spiritual evolution. Like lotus flower symbolism, lily meaning also represents this cycle.
As the lily flower opens up, it symbolizes reaching a level of spiritual enlightenment. We are all here to evolve on a spiritual level, and death is a major step in that transformation. This is why we give lilies to people who are grieving for a loved one who has passed. It’s a gentle reminder that although they grieve, their loved one has entered a higher state of consciousness.
This is also the reason that the Easter Lily is such a time-honored tradition. It represents hope and the rebirth of the Earth with spring, as well as the rebirth of Christ.
Lily flower meaning also includes devotion. Just as it’s a symbol of purity, the lily represents clarity of thought and sincere intentions. Another way to describe this might be faith. Having devotion means dedication to another person, a group of people, children, or even animals. It can also mean dedication to a spiritual practice or calling. Because the lily is a symbol of devotion, it’s given as a gift to celebrate a 30th wedding anniversary. In addition, it is planted in memorials or in gardens that have special meaning.
Water Lily Symbolism
Like the lotus, the water lily is an unusual flower in that it grows in watery environments. Because of this, the water lily is a symbol of transformation and personal growth, as well as our connection to the super-conscious.
While land represents the material world, water represents our ability to connect with our sub-conscious for a new level of understanding and insights. The water lily represents an ability to move back and forth between our conscious and super-conscious states.
Lily Color Meanings
The lily comes in a range of colors, and each one has special meanings. Here’s what different color lilies symbolize:
White Lily Flower Meaning
White lily flower meaning includes purity, faith, beauty, and angels.
The English composer and poet Thomas Campion described the essence of female beauty when he wrote, “There is a garden in her eyes, where roses and white lilies flow.”
As the rose represents love and passion, the white lily represents pure, natural beauty.
The white lily is a popular flower for bridal bouquets, gift for newborns, and sympathy bouquets.
Lilies that are white include:
- Stargazer lily (Lilium ‘Stargazer’)
- Madonna lily (Lilium candidum)
- Easter lily (Lilium llatin nongiflorum)
- White Oriental lily or Casa Blanca Lily (Lilium ‘Casa Blanca’)
- Shirui lily (Lilium mackliniae)
- Formosa lily (Lilium formosanum)
- Royal lily (Lilium regale)
- Calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) – not in the true lily family
- White water lily (Nymphaea alba) – not in the true lily family
- Fragrant water lily (Nymphaea odorata) – not in the true lily family
Pink lily flower meaning includes platonic love, compassion, and honoring feminine energy. This color lily makes a lovely gift for female relatives, friends, and girls, or and men who love the color pink!
Pink lilies include:
- Stargazer lily (Lilium ‘Stargazer’)
- Acapulco lily (Lilium ‘Acapulco’)
- Elodie lily (Lilium ‘Elodie’)
- Denia pixie lily (Lilium ‘Denia Pixie’)
- Lollipop lily (Lilium ‘Lollipop’)
- Longiflorum Asiatic lily (Lilium ‘Brindisi’)
- Tom Pouce lily (Lilium ‘Tom Pouce’)
- Pink water lily (Nymphaea ‘Pink Opal’) – not in the true lily family
- Hot pink water lily (Nymphaea ‘Pink Sensation’) – not in the true lily family
Red Lily Meaning
The color red symbolizes romantic love and passion. Because they are perennial flowers, the red lily also represents romantic commitment, devotion, and everlasting love.
Red lilies include:
- Matrix lily (Lilium ‘Matrix’)
- Martagon lily (Lilium ‘Claude Shride’)
- Asiatic red lily (Lilium ‘Monte Negro’)
- Forza lily (Lilium ‘Forza red’)
- Coral lily (Lilium pumilum)
- Black Out Asiatic lily (Lilium ‘Black Out’)
- Wood lily or western red lily (Lilium philadelphicum)
Orange and Tiger Lily Meaning
There are a few sub-species of lilies that come in the vibrant color orange. Notably, the tiger lily is one of the most popular types. Just as the tiger spirit animal symbolizes strength, confidence, and majesty, so does the tiger lily flower.
The color orange also symbolizes health and wellness. So, orange lily meaning encompasses vitality and long-term healthy.
Quite the opposite of the shrinking violet, the orange lily embodies the saying,
“Fortune favors the bold.”
Types of lilies that are orange include:
- Tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium)
- Leopard lily (Lilium pardilinum)
- Henry’s lily (Lilium ‘Henryi’)
- Fire lily (Lilium bulbiferum)
- Orange pixie lily (Lilium ‘Orange Pixie’)
- Asiatic Enchantment lily (Lilium enchantment)
- Canada lily (Lilium canadense)
Yellow Lily Flower
Yellow lily flower meaning represents joy, happiness, laughter, and gratitude. Like warm sunshine, these are feel-good flowers. They are ideal for lifting others’ or your own spirits, whether in a bouquet or the garden. They also make lovely thank you gifts.
Types of lilies that are yellow include:
- Connecticut king lily (Lilium ‘Connecticut king’)
- Golden splendor lily (Lilium ‘Golden splendor’)
- Golden-rayed lily (Lilium auratum)
- African queen trumpet lily (Lilium ‘African queen’)
- Trebbiano lily (Lilium ‘Trebbiano’)
- Canada lily (Lilium canadense)
- Yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea) – not in the true lily family
Green Lily Flower Meaning
Green lilies are rare hybrids, and they usually come in light, limey-green hues. The color green symbolizes nature, renewal, growth, and feelings. A green lily is also symbolic of long-term romantic love or friendships being renewed. In addition, a green lily is a good-luck flower to plant in the garden when you want a business or other financial endeavor to grow. For this reason, they also make great gifts for loved ones who are trying to build a business or a practice.
Green lilies include:
- Trebbiano lily (Lilium ‘Trebbiano’)
- Green Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria) – not in the true lily family
- Plantain lily (Hosta) – not in the true lily family
Blue lilies are often species of flowers that are not in the true lily genus (Lilium) but that are reminiscent of lilies and/or referred to as lilies, like the blue lily of the Nile. The color blue symbolizes trust, loyalty, and spiritual awareness. Giving the gift of a blue lily or planting them in your garden is a lovely tribute to long-term friendships and trusted relationships. In addition, blue lilies symbolize dedication to faith and trust in a higher power.
Blue lilies include:
- Tufted blue lily (Thelionema caespitosum) – not in the true lily family
- African blue lily or lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) – not in the true lily family
- Blue water lily (Nymphaea caerulea) – not in the true lily family
Purple Lily Flower Meaning
The color purple symbolizes peace, harmony, royalty, and spiritual enlightenment. Water lilies often come in purple hues, including fuchsia, lavender, and blue tones. Because of this, a pond with purple water lilies makes an ideal spot for mediation and the growth of a spiritual practice, or for a peace garden. The purple lily also makes a lovely gift for making up and bringing more harmony to a relationship.
Types of lilies that are purple include:
- Purple prince lily (Lilium ‘Purple Prince’)
- Patricia’s pride lily or purple rain lily (Lilium ‘Patricia’s Pride’)
- Purple Dimension Longiflorum Asiatic lily (Lilium longiflorum)
- Purple water lily (Nymphaea nouchali) – not in the true lily family
Spiritual Meaning of the Lily
“Faith is like a lily, lifted high and white.”
– Christina Rossetti
In Christianity and other spiritual practices, the lily is a symbol of faith and devotion. As with lotus flower meaning, the lily represents reaching for a higher state of consciousness and a connection to the divine. On a spiritual level, the lily also represents our potential to transform and renew our lives so we can live in a Godlier way.
Associated Spirit Animals
The lily shares some traits and symbiosis with certain wild animals and insects. For example, moths, bees, and hummingbirds pollinate lilies. And dragonflies and ladybugs prey on insects that eat lilies. In addition, aquatic animals, such as fish, frogs, and turtles, find shelter under water lily leaves.
On a symbolic level, the butterfly and hummingbird spirit animals are said the bring messages from angels. They share spiritual synergies with the lily, which is associated with transitioning to the spiritual realm.
In addition, the dragonfly, alligator, frog, and turtle spirit animals all symbolize spiritual transformation, which the lily also represents. Of course, the tiger lily is also associated with the animal it was named for. Thus, the tiger lily shares synergies with the tiger spirit animal. Furthermore, the dove, as a symbol of purity and sacredness also shares symbolic meaning with the lily flower.
Lily Flowers in Cultural Mythology and Folklore
The lily is found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. So, the lily flower appears in the cultural mythologies and folklore of many of the cultures in these regions. Here are some of those stories:
The Lily Flower in Greek Mythology
In Greece, the lily symbolizes purity and beauty – a perception that dates back thousands of years to Greek mythology. Hera, the wife of Zeus, was renowned for her beauty. However, as many of us know, Zeus was unfaithful.
In fact, one evening, as Hera slept, Zeus tried to let his illegitimate child Hercules, drink from Hera’s breast. However, Hera awoke and threw the child from her. As she did, her breast milk spilled, and lilies (or the Milky Way, depending on who tells the story) were created from her breast milk.
Lily Symbolism in Ancient Egypt
In Egypt, a blue lily grows in the Nile River Delta. It’s also described as the blue lotus. For the ancient Egyptians, the lily symbolized purity and transformation, including rebirth to the afterlife.
Lily Meaning in Christianity, Judaism, and The Bible
The lily is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. Some believe that lilies grew in the Garden of Eden in the spot where Eve cried her tears of regret.
In the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Hosea says, “I will be like the dew to Israel; He will blossom like the lily, and he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon.” (Hosea 14:5). Biblical scholars say that the lily in this case represents Israel.2 Though it has shallow roots, with faith in God, Israel will be rooted like a cedar tree.
For Christians, lily flower meaning is emblematic of Christ’s rebirth and ascent to Heaven. In addition, the lily symbolizes the purity of the Virgin Mary.
Lily Symbolism in Victorian England
Augustine Henry, an Irishman who lived during the Victorian era (1837 – 1901), “discovered” the lily while working as a customs agent in China. He became fascinated with the beautiful flower and others, dedicating all of his free time to learning more about them. Eventually, he began sending samples back home to the Royal Botanical Gardens in England.3
It didn’t take long for the Victorians to become enamored with the lily. In fact, flower symbolism and meaning was a popular pastime of that era. The lily came to symbolize innocence and purity for the Victorians. And for his efforts, Augustine had one sub-species named after him – the Lilium henryi, or Henry’s Lily.
Lily Meanings in China
Native to Asia, the lily flower also has special meaning Chinese culture, where it symbolizes everlasting love and a happy marriage.
Lily Tattoo Meaning
The lily flower can make a wonderful design for a tattoo. A lily tattoo can symbolize the pure love you feel for another, such as a child, parent, lover, or pet. It can also symbolize your dedication to your religious faith. In addition, as the lily is a symbol of transformation and rebirth, a lily tattoo can show the world that you are a person who has gone through challenges in life, yet your spirit has emerged unscathed.
Lilies are fragrant, diverse, and colorful, so they widely-loved flowers that will bring more beauty to any environment, whether planted or as cut flowers in a vase. They are fairly easy to grow, but timing is important. Different species will bloom at different point in the season. So, if you plant a few varieties, you can time it so some are always blooming.
There are more than 90 species of “true” lilies in the genus Lilium, including local native lilies, stargazers, Asiatic and Oriental varieties, trumpet and bell lilies, etc. In addition, as you’ve read in this post, there are other flowers that many people call lilies, such as water lilies, which are in a totally different genus of plants. For now, we’ll focus on planting true lilies.
To being, when it comes to selecting lilies to plant, I always recommend researching the native species for your geographical area first. Native lilies will have an advantage over non-native species because they’ve evolved to live in the temperature, water, and other climate conditions for your area.
In addition, native insects and birds will be better adapted to benefit from native lilies than non-native species. You can look up your zip code in the National Wildlife Federation native plant database to see if you have any native lilies.4 And if you Google “native plants + your area”, you’ll find even more resources. (All that being said, I understand the creativity that comes with gardening and why you may be interested planting non-native species as well.)
Important note before you start planting if you have a cat: Lilies (Genus Lilium) are toxic to cats and they eat them and they can cause kidney failure.5 So, if you have kitties who interact with your garden or potted plants, you should look for alternative flowers to plant. Lilies can also make dogs sick, but they’re not as toxic for dogs.
Planting Lilies from Seeds
Lilies do well in both containers and in the ground. In addition, you have the option of planting directly from seeds or from bulbs. If you like the idea of planting from seeds, I recommend this resource from SF Gate.6
Planting Lilies from Bulbs
You can plant lily bulbs in the spring or fall. The general blooming period is early summer to late fall. Lilies like a lot of sunlight, so it’s best to plant them in area where they’ll get six hours of sunlight a day.
Best Soil for Lilies
For lilies, I recommend using a good quality organic soil that’s slightly sandy. You can also mix in some compost to enrich the soil. Or add some organic plant food at the bottom of the hole where you’ll be placing the bulb. If you live in an area that’s dry, you can add mulch on top to keep the soil moist.
Lily Planting Tips from Bulbs
Depending on the type of bulbs you get, there may be specific recommendations on how deep to plant them. However, a general rule of thumb is 8 – 12 inches in the ground. And if you’re planting bulbs in a pot, the general rule is to place the bulb at a depth of about 3x the height of the bulb. You can plant bulbs together but give each bulb adequate space – about 3x the diameter of the bulb from other bulbs.
The pointier part of the bulb goes up. And if you feel a rougher, bumpier side of the bulb, those are the roots, so that direction goes down.
Cover the bulbs with about 4 – 6 inches of soil.
Lilies need adequate drainage, so place some rocks or broken pottery chips at the bottom of your container. Likewise, planting lilies in raised beds can allow for proper drainage.
Depending on the types of lilies you plant, they will bloom within 30 to 120 days after they start growing in the spring.
Lily Water Requirements
Once you plant your bulbs, water the soil right away, which will encourage root growth. After that, lilies need about 1 inch of water per week during the growing season. It’s important not to over-water lilies, so let the soil dry out a bit in between watering. You can poke your finger in the soil to test the moisture level. If the soil feels dry 1 inch down, it’s time to water again.
Once your lilies are in bloom, you can invite your friends and family over and tell them all about lily flower meaning and folklore!
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