Content Detail

The common lilac is an old-fashioned, long-lived, and well-loved lilac best known for its fragrant flowers. It is extremely hardy and thrives with little care which makes it a lovely shrub for a specimen planting, in masses, screens, hedges, or mixed in shrub borders. The May blooming flowers are typically purple to lilac but cultivars also come in magenta, pink and white.

  • Family (English) Olive
  • Family (botanic) Oleaceae
  • Tree or plant type Shrub
  • Native locale Non-native
  • Size range Large shrub (more than 8 feet), Medium shrub (5-8 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Occasional drought
  • Season of interest mid spring, late spring, early fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Fragrant, Pink, Purple, White, Other
  • Shape or form Multi-stemmed, Oval, Upright
  • Growth rate Moderate

Native geographic location and habitat: 

It is native to open woodlands, rocky hills and scrubby areas in southeastern Europe, but has been widely cultivated throughout Europe and North America

Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife:

Flowers attract birds and butterflies

Bark color and texture:

Young stems are lustrous brownish-gray with small raised lenticels. Older stems are gray.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

Opposite, pointed-ovate to heart-shaped leaves that are 2 to 5 inches long, Leaves are dark gray-green to blue green changing to a yellow fall color.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Very fragrant, tubular, 4-lobed, lilac to purple flowers in large conical to narrow-pyramidal panicles that are 6 to 8 inches long . Many hybrids and cultivars have double flowers, and come in a wide variety of colors.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Fruit is clusters of smooth, brown, flattened, dehiscent seed capsules (each to 3/ 4” long) which persist into winter.

Plant care:

Best in full sun. Avoid shady sites. Needs good air circulation and prefers moist, organic rich, well-drained soils. Intolerant of wet sites. Flowers on old wood, so prune after flowering. Shallow rooted so a layer of mulch will moderate soil temperature fluctuations.

List of pests, diseases, tolerances and resistance:

The lilac is susceptible to many pest and disease problems, especially Lilac borer, powdery mildew, verticillium wilt. Tolerant of salt, heavy clay soil, and deer.

There are hundreds of common lilac cultivars in the nursery trade.

Albert F. Holden lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Albert F. Holden):

An 8 to 10 feet high by 6 to 8 feet wide cultivar with an upright habit and deep violet-purple flowers with silver underside.

Miss Ellen Willmot lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Miss Ellen Willmott’): 

An 10 to 12 feet high cultivar with a rounded habit and double white flowers.

Ludwig Spaeth lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Ludwig Spaeth’):

An 10 to 12 feet high cultivar with an upright habit and reddish-purple flowers.

Monge lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Monge’):

A long blooming cultivar with an upright habit. It is 8 to 10 feet high with dark reddish-purple flowers.

President Grevy lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘President Grevy’):

A 10 to 12 feet high cultivar with an upright habit and double lilac-blue flowers.

Sensation lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’):

An 8 to 10 feet high cultivar with an upright habit and purple flowers with white margins.


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