lilac flower

Lilacs: Plant and Flower Varieties, How To Grow and Care

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A Lilac flower is also known as Syringa vulgaris, and is, in fact, a genus of at least 12 species of flowering plants that have been officially recognized.

The syringas are part of the olive family (also known as Oleaceae), and they can be found in southeast Europe, eastern Asia, and many other places that have a temperate climate.

If you have ever been next to lilac, the first thing you probably noticed was its sweet fragrance. The beauty of the flowers is also very palpable, but its scent is one of the best attributes of lilacs.

Continue reading and discover everything you need to know about Lilac’s flowers.

Table Of Contents

Lilacs Flower Facts

lilac flowers in a basket

Lilacs are related to the Oleaceae family, and they have a genus of at least 20 to 25 flowering species. In addition, there are over 1,000 types of lilac bushes all over the world.

One of the great things about lilacs is that their bushes can survive hundreds of years, regardless of the local weather.

Plant Name and Origin

The genus name of a Lilac flower is Syringa and it’s derived from an Ancient Greek word: syrinx, which means ‘’pipe’’ and ‘’tube’’ (1).

The first time that this plant was officially described was in 1753 when Carl Linnaeus (a Swedish botanist and zoologist) wrote a description about it and published it in Species Plantarum (2).

book and coffee with lilac

However, the English word for ‘’lilac’’ comes from the French word ‘’lilac’’, and, in turn, this French word comes from the Arabic word which is ‘’lilak’’. And, ultimately, this Arabic word is believed to come from a Persian word which is ‘’nilak’’ and it means ‘’bluish’’.

These beautiful flowers have originated in Asia and Eastern Europe, hence why the name is derived from a Persian word.

Syringa vulgaris is the most common lilac and it is also the oldest lilac to be cultivated. It was brought to America in the 1700s by the earliest settlers that were coming from Europe, and people were amazing and how easy it was to cultivate them and how beautiful they smelt.

Legend has it that two of the U.S Founding Fathers, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, used to love lilacs. In fact, they even grew them in their gardens (3).

General Description and Characteristics of Lilacs Flowers

lilac bouquet

Even though the most common type of lilac is the syringa vulgaris, many other types of lilacs that exist nowadays.

In addition, some lilacs hybrids have been introduced by several people, such as Monsieur Victor Lemoine of Nancy, France. He started breeding this flower in the 1800s, and he and his nursery became famous because they developed the well-known French lilacs that have extremely fragrant double blossoms.

Other individuals also presented other types of lilacs, for example, Isabella Preston introduced later-blooming varieties that were of different colors from the usual lilac flowers.

Lilacs Flower Description

common purple lilac

Most lilacs plants are very easy to care for, and butterflies often find them attractive because of their colors and scent.

Lilacs flower colors are several, such as blue, purple, lavender, yellow, white, pink, and red. Of course, it all depends on the variety of the flower, but most lilacs can grow 5 to 15 feet tall.

Usually, lilac flowers display four petals, but because nowadays there are many hybrid types, they have also developed some double-flowered cultivars. In other words, instead of having four petals per flower, you can see many lilacs with eight, ten or more petals.

Also, if you prune your lilac properly, then you can expect to have lilac flowers for decades.

Lilacs Leaves

white common lilac

Lilac leaves have a fairly common shape, as most of them are shaped like elongated hearts.  They are quite easy to spot, in all fairness. 

They are also deciduous, which means that both the lilac tree and the lilac shrubs will reach their maturity and when this happens they will shed their leaves in the fall. 


What Are The Popular Lilac Varieties?

Do you want to plant a lilac tree in your garden? Or are you simply learning about these flowers? Either way, here you will find 24 different types of lilacs: 

Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)

common lilac

This type of lilac is the most recognized lilac of all. The flowers of this plant are lilac-colored, and they also have a strong fragrance. 

They usually grow up to 20 feet in height. 

Gloire de Versailles Lilac (Ceanothus x delileanus)

Even though this isn’t a rare type, the shape of this lilac is rare, in comparison to other lilacs. This flower is very round, and its petals are usually blue. It also has a very lovely fragrance. 

They usually grow up to 5 feet tall, and they love the sun and well-drained soils. 

Another important characteristic is that they have reddish stems. Also, after they bloom they start glowing red berries, which is why this type of lilacs has been internationally awarded at many competitions. 

Dwarf Korean Lilac (S. palebinina

Even though its name says dwarf, in reality, these lilac plants can grow up to 5 feet tall. They are not recommended to be placed in small spaces. 

Their flowers are very alike to the common lilac, and they are very popular among those who only just started their gardening journey because they are very easy to plant and maintain. 

They have pink-lavender flowers. 

Tinkerbelle Lilac (Syringa tinkerbelle)

Also known as the Syringa Bailbelle, this lilac has a pink bubblegum color. They are also good for beginners and even though they are slow-growers, they are very easy to maintain. 

They usually grow about 8 feet tall, and butterflies seem to love them. 

Chinese Lilac (S. chinensis)

chinese lilac

This type of lilac grows quickly, and it can easily reach 8 to 12 feet in height. Also, this type of bush is a cross between Persian lilacs and common lilacs, making this tree and flower truly beautiful. 

It has a lilac-pink color, and sometimes it can grow a purple color as well.

Sensation Lilac (S. Vulgaris sensation)

sensation lilac

They can grow up to 15 feet. They have bi-color flowers that truly cause a sensation. It is a great flower to have, especially if you would like to welcome butterflies into your garden. 

It can reach 15 feet in height and its fragrance is quite nice and not too strong. 

Miss Kim Lilac (Syringa pubescens Subsp. patula)

These types of flowers will definitely let you know that spring has arrived. The shrubs can grow up to 6 feet in height, and they are very tolerant of different weather. 

It has deep purple buds and the petals are sometimes lavender or light blue. Birds and butterflies love them, and it is perfect for small gardens.

Arroyo Grande Lilac (Ceanothus impressus var. nipponensis)

It can reach up to eight feet high, and it is a stunning type of lilac. It has dark blue flowers and its stems are often dark brown. 

It is a good type of lilac if you live in really dry areas, but during the first couple of years of its life, you must water it constantly. 

It is also very fragrant and it loves sandy soil, so it grows really well in coastal gardens. 

Bloomerang Dark Purple Lilac (Syringa vulgaris

It can grow up to six feet tall, and its flowers start blooming during springtime. What is unusual about this type of plant, is that it also blooms during the summer and fall. 

It forms beautiful flowers with lavender petals. 

Charles Joly Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) 

This lilac was one of the first ones to be introduced to the world. This happened in 1896, and it is still popular nowadays because of its beauty. 

It is also a French hybrid plant, so you can expect it to have a strong fragrance. Also, it has a deep purple bud color that is truly fascinating. 

In addition, this French hybrid also has a double magenta-hued bloom, which makes it a beautiful flower. 

Maiden’s Blush Lilac (Syringa hyacinthiflora)

If you have a small garden and you are looking into making your landscape even better, then you should definitely plant this type of lilac. 

Maiden’s Blush lilac has open blossoms which make it look as if it was made with different colors, similar to a painting. 

Its height can reach 8 to 10 feet. And you can plant it in pairs, or groups.

Lilac Souvenir de Louis Spaeth (Syringa vulgaris)

This type of lilac attracts butterflies and hummingbirds alike, but it also seems to distract deers and rabbits. 

It likes to be cool, so try to avoid planting it in very hot areas. Also, it can reach up to 12 feet in height, even though it is a shrub. 

Autumnal Blue Lilac (Ceanothus) 

As its name suggests, this type of flower is blue, and it is absolutely breathtaking to see one and to smell one. 

Its leaves are very bright, and it can grow up to 10 feet high. It is a unique flower, thus this has won several international awards. 

Concha Lilac (Ceanothus) 

This is a late bloomer plant, but this doesn’t take away the fact that it is truly beautiful. It has deep blue flowers and when they open up they show you some purplish-red buds. 

It can grow up to 10 feet in height and it is a very strong plant. 

El Dorado Lilac (Ceanothus) 

This is another type of lilac that is very unique because its leaves are two-toned. In fact, they have lime green and dark green leaves in each petal. 

They can grow up to 10 feet in height and they usually bloom really late.

Hungarian Lilac (S. Josikaea)

It is another type of lilac. It usually has dark flowers, and they are very common in the U.S.

They are interesting and unique mainly because they love harsh weather such as the winter. 

In fact, they need freezing temperatures in order to start breaking away and produce flowers. 

Littleleaf Lilac (Syringa pubescens ssp. Microphylla ‘Superba’)

littleleaf lilac

They are very petite and have petite leaves as well. Littleleaf Lilacs will usually only grow up to 5 feet tall. 

They also have a rosy-pink flower that is very different from the rest of the lilacs flowers. They will also rebloom if the conditions have been set properly. This means that they must be in mild summer temperature, and they need to be watered constantly. 

Mrs. Edward Harding Lilac (Small Syringa vulgaris)

Mrs. Edward Harding is a French lilac that was brought to the United States in the late 1890s. 

It is very easy to maintain it and it forms into a tree. However, they need to be pruned every single year after they start flowering in order to remain healthy. 

Himalayan Lilac (S. Emodi)

It is also referred to as the late lilac because it takes its time to bloom. This beautiful flower has a rose-like color and it can grow to 10 feet tall. 

It is a robust shrub that is usually found in India, but nowadays it is grown everywhere. 

Early blooming Lilac (Syringa oblata)

It is very similar to the common Syringa Vulgaris lilac, but the main difference is that this type of lilac blooms earlier than the rest. 

It is a small shrub that won’t reach much height. And its flowers are yellow or white. 


Rare Types Of Lilac Flowers

Japanese tree Lilac (S. amurensis ‘Japonica’)

japanese tree lilac

Even though they grow in different countries (such as Japan, Korea, and Northern China), these types of lilacs are considered rare because of the colors of the flowers. 

These lilacs are yellow, but a very pale yellow in comparison to other types of lilacs. 

They also have a strong fragrance, and they tend to grow up to 39 feet high! This is why it’s considered the largest lilac. 

Dark Star Lilac (Ceanothus)

This is another unique type of lilac. Its flowers are dark blue in color and its leaves are dark green. But, the interesting thing about them is that the leaves are tiny and you are able to see the veins. 

It can grow up to six feet tall and it must be pruned annually. The Dark Star lilac loves hot summers and water. 

Syringa pinetorum Lilac

It is a very rare type of lilac that can only be found in China and Tibet. Pinetorum refers to the pine trees or pine woods, and this shrub can reach up to less than five feet tall once it reaches its full maturity (4). 

Its flowers are yellow, and they prefer to live in places that are located at very high altitudes.  

Nodding Lilac (Syringa Komarowii)

This is another rare species of lilacs, and they can only be found in China. More specifically, in provinces such as Gansu, Shaanxi, or Yunnan (5).

It’s a shrub, but it can reach up to five feet tall. Its branches are very straight and erected and the leaves are oval. 

The Nodding Lilac flowers are either pink or mauve, and they usually have a white base.


How To Grow Lilacs

growing lilac

Growing lilacs is not as difficult as you may think. You will first need to choose a site to grow your lilacs. This site must have full sun but it also needs to be a moist and well-drained soil. 

Below are some specific instructions and guidelines to follow, for whenever you choose to grow your own lilacs. 

Location is Everything

The area you choose to grow your lilacs must be fertile, well-drained, and, if possible, neutral to alkaline soil.

Also, remember that lilacs need to be exposed to sunlight, so try to plant your lilacs in an open area (6)

Water your lilacs

Water is important for any plant, but more so when you are trying to grow some lilacs. However, you will also need a  good drainage system if you are planting the flowers in your garden. 

With a drainage system, you will only use the necessary amount of water, and all the extra water can simply go away and be used for something else. 

And even though lilacs love water, you also need to make sure you don’t overwater them.

The Best Soil for your Lilacs

If you can, run a simple test and see what the results tell you about your soil. The optimal pH level should be near 7.0. But don’t stress about it either, because there are many ways to help your soil get in the best condition. 

If you see your soil is poor in nutrients, then try to enrich it by adding some compost to it. Lilacs love it when the soil they are growing up into is rich and full of nutrients. And, if on the other hand, you have problems with your soil as it becomes acidic, try adding garden lime to it and you will soon recover the soil alkaline levels.

Plant your Lilacs 

Once you are ready to plant lilacs, make sure you make a big hole so your plant has enough space to grow. You then place your plant and immediately start filling the rest of the hole with soil. 

Make sure you water it as well, especially during the day you plant it. If you live in a place with dry weather, then you should also water it constantly. 

If you are lucky enough to have several lilac plants then try to place them between 5 and 15 feet apart from each other. It will all depend on the variety of plants you have, but make sure you leave enough room for them to fully grow and blossom.

Care and Maintenance

lilac in white fence

Pay close attention to your lilacs but try not to stress about it! Each spring you can put compost under your plant and, at the same time, you can place a 2-inch layer of mulch. This will help you to retain moisture and to control weeds that may damage your lilacs.

If your summers are very hot then you must water your lilacs. 

Even though lilac trees require maintenance, it can be argued that this is a simple step to make sure your plants will grow properly.

Lilacs are well-known for enduring droughts and severe weather, and they actually survive. 

After three years, you will be able to see your lilacs producing flowers. 

Deadheading

Deadheading lilacs should be done as soon as the flowers fade. It should also be done annually in order to maintain the health of the lilacs. 

Just make sure you cut the old flower and its cluster at its base, this way you are making space for new shoots to grow over the following summer.

Pests and Diseases

Nature is very wise, and this is why slugs and snails love to attack lilacs. Well, in all honesty, slugs love damaging all gardens, and they are considered pests. 

Make sure your lilacs are not having visits by these two pests, because if they do, they are more likely to grow fewer flowers and leaves, thus they will not reach their full potential. 

During the summer, it is very common to see powdery white mildew on your lilac plants. And even though it may seem like a really bad thing to happen, in reality, it doesn’t harm your lilacs. 

If you would like to apply fertilizer to your lilac plant, then why don’t you put a layer of compost under the plant? You must be careful not to over-fertilize your lilacs because if you do so, they will not bloom. 

Lilacs also like manure, so if you happen to have any, put some on their roots, they will be grateful for it.  

Pruning Lilacs

When your plant is small, and if it has flower heads then try to cut them within the first month of their first appearance. 

Once you do this, you will soon realize that your plant will focus on preparing itself to produce more flower buds, which, in turn, will also help the overall well-being of the lilac plant. 

If you think your plant is becoming too tall, then you can also cut some branches. If, on the other hand, your branches are short, you can cut 10 to 15 inches of the main stems from the soil, and this will help your branches grow. 

Try to follow this pruning for at least the first three years of your lilacs plants’ life. 


Benefits and Uses of Lilacs

Lilacs have many usages, and they also have a lot of benefits for your health. They are the following: 

Medicinal Uses 

Aromatherapy

lilac aromatheraphy oil

Lilacs are very fragrant, and this means that lilac oil is going to be amazing as well. In fact, this type of oil is aromatherapeutic, which means that it has health benefits as well. 

For example, lilac oil can be used to help reduce depression and anxiety. It can also help you to feel relaxed and in a good comfort zone. 

Medicinal Use

Not many people are aware of this, but lilacs have been used for centuries as a treatment for fever, inflammation and even malaria (7). 

It also is a vermifuge, which means it will help you with any possible threats for intestinal worms. 

In addition, lilacs’ oil can help with any skin problems or even minor injuries. Lilac oil is widely used to recover from different diseases. Also, this oil can help you with sunburn, scrapes and many other skin conditions. 

Fragrance Uses

Lilacs are known for their beautiful scent, so, it isn’t a surprise that some of the best perfumes in the world use these types of flowers. 

However, you can also use them to make your home smell better, especially in the washroom. Or you can place some lilacs in your bathtub and have a relaxing and refreshing bath. 

Culinary Uses

lilac in a bowl

You may be surprised, but did you know that lilacs can be used as a culinary ingredient? From crystallizing them to be served as a decorative item in either cake, cookies, rice dishes, or even pasta, to making a lilac syrup, you can definitely use your lilacs in the kitchen (8). 

Other Uses

As a Way to Attract Animals

insect in lilac flowers

If you would like to attract animals to your garden, then why don’t you plant lilacs?

Because of their fragrance, lilacs like to lure birds which, in turn, feel attracted to the possibility of creating more nests nearby these plants. 

Also, butterflies love lilacs, and they actively help to pollinate other garden plants that you may have. 

Lastly, lilacs could be used as distracting tools, especially if you have deer nearby. 

As a Decorative Flower

lilac in a flower vase

Since lilacs come in different colors, shapes, and scents, they can be used as decorative flowers. Place them in any area of your house, and your home will not only look better, but it will smell great as well. 

You can also give them as a present to your favorite person, and they will look great if you have many types. Just mix and match them and you will have a perfect gift.


Lilac Cultural Significance

lilac flower meaning

Even though lilacs originated in Asia and Southeastern Europe, it can be argued that they also became quite a popular plant in many areas of the world. 

This is why in several countries, lilacs are associated with the Easter holiday, as this holiday tends to occur during the blossoming of the flowers as well. What’s more, for many people this symbolizes a new beginning. 

Furthermore, different cultures have also given lilacs different symbolism. During the Victorian era, many people thought lilacs were a reminder of an old love. The Celtics saw lilacs as magical plants, mainly due to its fragrance. 

In Russia, there is a tradition where the family of a newborn puts a lilac flower over the head of the baby, in order to attract wisdom to the child. And in the United States, lilac flowers are the official state flowers in New Hampshire.

Lilac Flower Colors and Their Meaning

colorful lilac

Lilacs bloom earlier than many other types of flowers, so they tend to symbolize renewal. Also, individuals from all over the world believe that lilacs also symbolize confidence, so in many areas, there is a tradition to gift lilacs when a person is about to graduate or when they are getting married. 

There are also specific meanings that can be attached to specific colors. For example, magenta lilacs can symbolize love and passion, whereas blue lilacs are considered to bring happiness and tranquility. 

In addition, violet lilacs symbolize spirituality, and white lilacs signify purity and innocence. And, lilac, which is the color for which they named the flower, is of a light purple tone that symbolizes the first love. 

To learn more in details, check our Lilac Flower Meaning and Symbolism article.

Common Questions About Lilac Flowers

Here are  the most common questions about these type of flowers: 

Is there a difference between a Lilac tree and a Lilac bush?

common lilac tree

It’s fairly simple to recognize lilac trees and lilac bushes. For example, lilac bushes are often short and compact, whereas lilac trees are bigger and taller. 

In fact, these types of trees can grow up to 25 feet high, and, in turn, they have branches that are considered lilac bushes.

How tall will a Lilac tree grow?

This also depends on the type of lilac tree you are planting, but you can expect your tree to grow from 5 to 15 feet, and even up to 25 feet in some cases.

Of course, there are many other types of lilac trees that will grow much less, but overall, this will be the height they will reach. 

Are Lilac trees invasive?

lilac flower bouquet

No, lilac trees are not invasive, quite the opposite actually. You must leave enough space between your trees or bushes and, if you have a structure nearby, make sure it’s not next to your trees. 

What is the most fragrant Lilac bush? 

Most lilacs have some type of smell. However, the lilac bush that is often considered as the most fragrant is definitely the Chinese native Syringe Pubescens. This type of bush has small and white flowers and they have a slight purple color. 

The fragrance they release can be described as sweet and spicy, which is very different from the most-common lilac scent.

What other things can be planted next to the Lilac flower? 

Lilac companion plants can be tulips, daffodils, peonies, and even grape hyacinth. Always remember that not all plants grow in all areas, so this will solely depend on where you live. 

If you want to reduce the weed that forms around the trees, then try to plant as many of these other companion plants and you will soon see a difference. 

purple lilac

Conclusion

Lilacs are so beautiful and amazing that they can help you feel refreshed as soon as you smell them. To some, lilacs fragrance is a natural treasure, and it’s incredible how different types of lilacs will provide different types of odors. 

As we have seen, there are many varieties of Lilac trees in the world, and even though many individuals don’t know whether lilacs are trees or shrubs, the main thing you have to keep in mind is that trees become taller and the shrubs look like, well, shrubs or little bushes. 

Lilacs are also known for their great health benefits, so you must take this into consideration next time you are planning on planting something in your garden.

For more amazing flowers to see, check our list of flower names from A to Z.

References

Reference List:

(1) https://www.arboretum.harvard.edu/plants/featured-plants/lilacs/

(2)  https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/84235#page/5/mode/1up

(3) https://www.arboretum.harvard.edu/plants/featured-plants/lilacs/plants-of-history-plants-for-tomorrow/

(4) Su, G., Cao, Y., Li, C., Yu, X., Gao, X., Tu, P., & Chai, X. (2015). Phytochemical and pharmacological progress on the genus Syringa. Chemistry Central Journal, 9(1), 2. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13065-015-0079-2

(5) https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxonomydetail.aspx?id=36093

(6) https://www.arboretum.harvard.edu/plants/featured-plants/lilacs/how-to-plant-and-care-for-lilacs/

(7) Woźniak, M., Michalak, B., Wyszomierska, J., Dudek, M. K., & Kiss, A. K. (2018). Effects of Phytochemically Characterized Extracts From Syringa vulgaris and Isolated Secoiridoids on Mediators of Inflammation in a Human Neutrophil Model. Frontiers in pharmacology, 9, 349. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2018.00349

(8) Sõukand, R., Hrynevich, Y., Vasilyeva, I., Prakofjewa, J., Vnukovich, Y., Paciupa, J., Hlushko, A., Knureva, Y., Litvinava, Y., Vyskvarka, S., Silivonchyk, H., Paulava, A., Kõiva, M., & Kalle, R. (2017). Multi-functionality of the few: current and past uses of wild plants for food and healing in Liubań region, Belarus. Journal of ethnobiology and ethnomedicine, 13(1), 10. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-017-0139-x

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