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"Lilacs" redirects here. For the bibliographic database, see LILACS.
For other uses, see Syringa (disambiguation).
Syringa vulgaris
common Lilac
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Oleaceae
Tribe: Oleeae
Genus: Syringa
  • Lilac Mill.
  • Liliacum Renault
  • Busbeckia Hécart, nom. inval.
  • Ligustrina Rupr.

Syringa (Lilac) is a genus of 12 currently recognized[1] species of flowering woody plants in the olive family (Oleaceae), native to woodland and scrub from southeastern Europe to eastern Asia, and widely and commonly cultivated in temperate areas elsewhere.[2][3][4][5]

The genus is most closely related to Ligustrum (privet), classified with it in Oleaceae tribus Oleeae subtribus Ligustrinae.[6]

Lilacs are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Copper Underwing, Scalloped Oak and Svensson's Copper Underwing and Saras.


Via Arabic ليلك lilak from Persian نیلک nilak meaning "bluish".[7]

The genus name Syringa is derived from Greek syrinx, meaning a hollow tube or pipe, and refers to the broad pith in the shoots in some species, easily hollowed out since ancient times to make reed pipes and flutes.[8]

The English common name "lilac" is from the French lilac.[9][10][11]

A pale purple colour is generally known as lilac after the characteristic color of the flowers of many kinds of lilac, especially Syringa vulgaris.


Purple lilac bush

They are small trees, ranging in size from 2 to 10 metres (6 ft 7 in to 32 ft 10 in) tall, with stems up to 20 to 30 centimetres (7.9 to 11.8 in) diameter. The leaves are opposite (occasionally in whorls of three) in arrangement, and their shape is simple and heart-shaped to broad lanceolate in most species, but pinnate in a few species (e.g. S. protolaciniata, S. pinnatifolia). The flowers are produced in spring, each flower being 5 to 10 millimetres (0.20 to 0.39 in) in diameter with a four-lobed corolla, the corolla tube narrow, 5 to 20 millimetres (0.20 to 0.79 in) long; they are bisexual, with fertile stamens and stigma in each flower. The usual flower colour is a shade of purple (often a light purple or lilac), but white, pale yellow and pink, and even a dark burgundy color are also found. The flowers grow in large panicles, and in several species have a strong fragrance. Flowering varies between mid spring to early summer, depending on the species. The fruit is a dry, brown capsule, splitting in two at maturity to release the two winged seeds.[3][4][5][9]

Cultivation and uses[edit]

A white, double-flowered cultivar

Lilacs are popular shrubs in parks and gardens throughout the temperate zone, and several hybrids and numerous cultivars have been developed. The term French lilac is often used to refer to modern double-flowered cultivars, thanks to the work of prolific breeder Victor Lemoine. Lilacs grow most successfully in well-drained soils, particularly those based on chalk.[12] They flower on old wood, and produce more flowers if unpruned. If pruned, the plant responds by producing fast-growing young vegetative growth with no flowers, in an attempt to restore the removed branches. Lilac bushes can be prone to powdery mildew disease.

The wood of lilac is close-grained, diffuse-porous, extremely hard and one of the densest in Europe.[citation needed] The sapwood is typically cream-coloured and the heartwood has various shades of brown and purple. Lilac wood has traditionally been used for engraving, musical instruments, knife handles etc.[citation needed] When drying, the wood has a tendency to be encurved as a twisted material, and to split into narrow sticks.


Lilacs are often considered to symbolize love (see language of flowers). In Greece, Lebanon, and Cyprus, the lilac is strongly associated with Easter time because it flowers around that time; it is consequently called paschalia.

In a poem by Walt Whitman called When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd Lilacs are often a reference to Abraham Lincoln.

Syringa vulgaris is the state flower of New Hampshire, because it "is symbolic of that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State" (New Hampshire Revised Statute Annotated (RSA) 3:5).


Lilacs as showcased in the Lilac Celebration held each May at the Royal Botanical Gardens near Hamilton, Ontario in Canada.

Several locations in North America hold annual Lilac Festivals, including:

  • The Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts, which celebrates "Lilac Sunday" every May. The Arboretum shows off its collection of over 422 lilac plants, of 194 different varieties.[13] Lilac Sunday is the only day of the year when picnicking is allowed on the grounds of the Arboretum.
  • Lombard, Illinois, called the "Lilac Village", which has an annual lilac festival and parade in May. The village also contains Lilacia Park, a garden with over 200 varieties of lilacs, as well as over 50 kinds of tulips.
  • Mackinac Island, in Michigan, which celebrates a weeklong lilac festival and lilac parade each June.
  • Rochester, New York, which has held its Lilac Festival since 1898, the longest-running in North America. This celebration is held in Highland Park, which has the most varieties of lilacs at any single place, many of which were developed in Rochester.
  • The Royal Botanical Gardens near Hamilton, Ontario, which holds its Lilac Celebration each May.
  • Spokane, Washington, known as the "Lilac City", which holds an annual lilac festival and lilac parade.
  • Franktown, Ontario, Canada, holds an annual festival.[14]


Species and subspecies currently accepted as of July 2014:[1][3]

  1. Syringa emodi Wall. ex Royle - Himalayan lilac - northern India, Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal
  2. Syringa josikaea J.Jacq. ex Rchb.f. - Carpathian Mountains of Romania and Ukraine
  3. Syringa komarowii C.K.Schneid. - Gansu, Hubei, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan
  4. Syringa oblata Lindl. - Korea, Gansu, Hebei, Henan, Jilin, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi, Sichuan
  5. Syringa oblata subsp. dilatata Nakai - Korea, Jilin, Liaoning
  6. Syringa persica L. (syn Syringa protolaciniata) - Persian lilac - Afghanistan, Pakistan, western Himalayas, Gansu, Qinghai
  7. Syringa pinetorum W.W.Sm. - Sichuan, Tibet, Yunnan
  8. Syringa pinnatifolia Hemsl. - Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Sichuan
  9. Syringa pubescens Turcz. - Korea, Gansu, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Jilin, Liaoning, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi, Sichuan
  10. Syringa reticulata (Blume) H.Hara (syn. S. pekinensis) - Japanese tree lilac - Primorye, Japan, Korea, Gansu, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Henan, Jilin, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Sichuan
  11. Syringa tomentella Bureau & Franch. - Sichuan, Tibet, Yunnan
  12. Syringa villosa Vahl - Primorye, Korea, Hebei, Shanxi, Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning
  13. Syringa vulgaris L. - common lilac - native to Balkans; naturalized in western and central Europe, and many scattered locations in North America [15]


  • S. × diversifolia (S. oblata × S. pinnatifolia)       
  • S. × henryi (S. josikaea × S. villosa)
  • S. × hyacinthiflora (S. oblata × S. vulgaris)
  • S. × josiflexa (S. josikaea × S. komarowii)
  • S. × laciniata (S. protolaciniata × S. vulgaris)
  • S. × persica (S. protolaciniata × unknown)
  • S. × prestoniae (S. komarowii × S. villosa)
  • S. × swegiflexa (S. komarowii × S. sweginzowii)



  1. ^ a b c |Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Syringa
  2. ^ Flora Europaea: Syringa
  3. ^ a b c Flora of China: 丁香属 ding xiang shu Syringa
  4. ^ a b Flora of Pakistan: Syringa
  5. ^ a b Germplasm Resources Information Network: Syringa
  6. ^ University of Oxford, Oleaceae information site: New classification of the Oleaceae
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Macmillan ISBN 0-333-47494-5.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Vedel, H., & Lange, J. (1960). Trees and Bushes in Wood and Hedgerow. Metheun & Co. Ltd., London.
  12. ^ Hillier Nurseries, The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs, David and Charles, 1998, p659 ISBN 0-7153-0808-4
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Franktown Lilac Festival". Lanark County Tourism. Retrieved 8 July 2012. 
  15. ^ Biota of North America Program county distribution map, Syringa vulgaris

External links[edit]