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Syringa vulgaris

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Syringa vulgaris
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Oleaceae
Genus: Syringa
S. vulgaris
Binomial name
Syringa vulgaris
Lilac Bush, by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Syringa vulgaris, the lilac or common lilac, is a species of flowering plant in the olive family Oleaceae, native to the Balkan Peninsula, where it grows on rocky hills.[1][2][3] Grown in spring for its scented flowers, this large shrub or small tree is widely cultivated and has been naturalized in parts of Europe, Asia and North America. It is not regarded as an aggressive species. It is found in the wild in widely scattered sites, usually in the vicinity of past or present human habitations.[4][5][6]



Syringa vulgaris is a large deciduous shrub or multi-stemmed small tree, growing to 6–7 m (20–23 ft) high. It produces secondary shoots from the base or roots, with stem diameters up to 20 cm (8 in), which in the course of decades may produce a small clonal thicket.[7] The bark is grey to grey-brown, smooth on young stems, longitudinally furrowed, and flaking on older stems. The leaves are simple, 4–12 cm (2–5 in) and 3–8 cm broad, light green to glaucous, oval to cordate, with pinnate leaf venation, a mucronate apex, and an entire margin. They are arranged in opposite pairs or occasionally in whorls of three. The flowers have a tubular base to the corolla 6–10 mm long with an open four-lobed apex 5–8 mm across, usually lilac to mauve, occasionally white. They are arranged in dense, terminal panicles 8–18 cm (3–7 in) long. The fruit is a dry, smooth, brown capsule, 1–2 cm long, splitting in two to release the two-winged seeds.[1][8]

Taxonomy and naming


Syringa vulgaris was first formally described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 and the description was published in Species Plantarum.[9][10] The Latin specific epithet vulgaris means "common" (in the sense of "widespread").[11]

Garden history


Lilacs—both S. vulgaris and S. × persica the finer, smaller "Persian lilac", now considered a natural hybrid—were introduced into northern European gardens at the end of the 16th century, from Ottoman gardens, not through botanists exploring the Balkan habitats of S. vulgaris.[12] The Holy Roman Emperor's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, is generally credited with supplying lilac cuttings to the Dutch horticulturist Carolus Clusius about 1562. Well-connected botanists, such as the great herbalist John Gerard, soon had the rarity in their gardens: Gerard noted that he had lilacs growing "in very great plenty" in 1597. However, lilacs were never mentioned by Shakespeare[13] and the 19th century botanist John Loudon was of the opinion that the Persian lilac was introduced into English gardens by John Tradescant the elder in the 17th century.[14] Tradescant's source for information on the lilac, and perhaps ultimately for the plants, was Italian naturalist Pietro Andrea Mattioli, as one can tell from a unique copy of Tradescant's plant list in his Lambeth garden, an adjunct of his Musaeum Tradescantianum; it was printed, though probably not published, in 1634: it lists Lilac Matthioli. That Tradescant's "lilac of Mattioli's" was a white one is shown by Elias Ashmole's manuscript list, Trees found in Mrs Tredescants Ground when it came into my possession (1662):[15] "Syringa alba".

In the American colonies, lilacs were introduced in the 18th century. Peter Collinson, F.R.S., wrote to the Pennsylvania gardener and botanist John Bartram, proposing to send him some, and remarked that John Custis of Virginia had a fine "collection", which Ann Leighton interpreted as signifying common and Persian lilacs, in both purple and white, "the entire range of lilacs possible" at the time.[16]

It is also slowly making its way into the world of bonsai where it is loved for its flowers and multistem features.[17]



The lilac is a very popular ornamental plant in gardens and parks, because of its attractive, sweet-smelling flowers, which appear in early summer just before many of the roses and other summer flowers come into bloom.[18]

In late summer, lilacs can be attacked by powdery mildew, specifically Erysiphe syringae, one of the Erysiphaceae.[19] No fall color is seen and the seed clusters have no aesthetic appeal.

Common lilac tends to flower profusely in alternate years, a habit that can be improved by deadheading the flower clusters after the color has faded and before seeds, few of which are fertile, form. At the same time, twiggy growth on shoots that have flowered more than once or twice can be cut to a strong, outward-growing side shoot.

It is widely naturalised in western and northern Europe.[8] In a sign of its complete naturalization in North America, it has been selected as the state flower of the state of New Hampshire, because it "is symbolic of that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State".[20] Additional hardiness for Canadian gardens was bred for in a series of S. vulgaris hybrids by Isabella Preston, who introduced many of the later-blooming varieties. Their later-developing flower buds are better protected from late spring frosts. The Syringa × prestoniae hybrids range primarily in the pink and lavender shades.[21]



Most garden plants of S. vulgaris are cultivars, the majority of which do not exceed 4–5 m (13–16 ft) tall.[22] Between 1876 and 1927, the nurseryman Victor Lemoine of Nancy, France, introduced over 153 named cultivars, many of which are considered classics and still in commerce today. Lemoine's "French lilacs" extended the limited color range to include deeper, more saturated hues, and many of them are double-flowered "sports", with the stamens replaced by extra petals.

AGM cultivars


The following cultivars of Syringa vulgaris have received the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:

With single flowers:

  • 'Andenken an Ludwig Späth' (deep pink/red)[23]
  • 'Esther Staley' (S. × hyacinthiflora - pale lilac flowers)[24]
  • 'Firmament' (pale lilac-blue)[25]
  • 'Sensation' (purple flowers edged white)[26]
  • 'Vestale' (pure white flowers)[27]

With double flowers:

  • 'Katherine Havemeyer' (lilac)[28]
  • 'Madame Lemoine' (white)[29]
  • 'Mrs Edward Harding' (deep pink/red)[30]
  • 'Primrose' (pale yellow flowers)[31]

Other uses


The flowers of common lilac are edible and used for flavoring honeys, sugars, food and other sweets. [32][33]



  1. ^ a b Rushforth, K. (1999). Trees of Britain and Europe. Collins ISBN 0-00-220013-9.
  2. ^ Med-Checklist: Syringa vulgaris
  3. ^ Flora Europaea: Syringa vulgaris
  4. ^ Biota of North Idaho America Program, Syringa vulgaris
  5. ^ Altervista Flora Italiana, Syringa vulgaris
  6. ^ Illinois wildflowers, common lilac, Syringa vulgaris
  7. ^ In second-growth woodlands of New England, a thicket of lilac may be the first indication of the cellar-hole of a vanished 19th-century timber-framed farmhouse.
  8. ^ a b Blamey, M. & Grey-Wilson, C. (1989). Flora of Britain and Northern Europe. ISBN 0-340-40170-2.
  9. ^ "Syringa vulgaris". International Plant Names Index (IPNI). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Harvard University Herbaria & Libraries; Australian National Botanic Gardens. Archived from the original on 6 June 2023. Retrieved 30 July 2023.
  10. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1753). Species Plantarum (1 ed.). Stockholm: Laurentii Salvii. p. 9. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  11. ^ Harrison, Lorraine (2012). RHS Latin for Gardeners. United Kingdom: Mitchell Beazley. ISBN 978-1845337315.
  12. ^ The botanic homeland of S. vulgaris was identified in 1828, when naturalist Anton Rocher found truly wild specimens in Balkans .
  13. ^ Their first appearance by name in English print was in the OED dated to 1625.
  14. ^ Loudon, Arboretum (1838:49), noted in R.T. Gunther, Early British Botanists and their Gardens (Oxford: Frederick Hall) 1922:339.
  15. ^ Written in the endpapers of his copy of John Parkinson's Paradisus, in the Bodleian Library; printed in Gunther 1922:346
  16. ^ Ann Leighton, American Gardens in the Eighteenth Century (University of Massachusetts Press) 1986:445
  17. ^ D'Cruz, Mark (16 April 2020). "Ma-Ke Bonsai Care Guide for Common Lilac". Ma-Ke Bonsai. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  18. ^ RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 978-1405332965.
  19. ^ B. Ing, "An Introduction to British Powdery Mildews", in The Mycologist 5.1 (1990:24–27).
  20. ^ New Hampshire Revised Statute Annotated (RSA) 3:5
  21. ^ "Plant Profiles - Chicago Botanic Garden". www.chicagobotanic.org. Retrieved 25 June 2018.
  22. ^ Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Macmillan ISBN 0-333-47494-5.
  23. ^ "Syringa vulgaris 'Andenken an Ludwig Späth'". RHS. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  24. ^ "Syringa × hyacinthiflora 'Esther Staley'". RHS. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  25. ^ "Syringa vulgaris 'Firmament'". RHS. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  26. ^ "Syringa vulgaris 'Sensation'". RHS. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  27. ^ "Syringa vulgaris 'Vestale'". RHS. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  28. ^ "Syringa vulgaris 'Katherine Havemeyer'". RHS. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  29. ^ "Syringa vulgaris 'Madame Lemoine'". RHS. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  30. ^ "Syringa vulgaris 'Mrs Edward Harding'". RHS. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  31. ^ "Syringa vulgaris 'Primrose'". RHS. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  32. ^ "How to Eat Lilacs (and Other Ways to Use Them)". Practical Self Reliance. 12 May 2019. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  33. ^ "Edible Wild Food Blog » Lilac Flowers for Eye Health". Retrieved 12 January 2022.