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Syringa vulgaris
common lilac
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Oleaceae
Tribe: Oleeae
Subtribe: Ligustrinae
Genus: Syringa
Synonyms [1]
  • LilacMill.
  • LiliacumRenault
  • BusbeckiaHécart, nom. inval.
  • LigustrinaRupr.

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.


Purple lilac bush Lilac Bush.jpg
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 monoecious, 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] [7]

Taxonomy and etymology

The genus Syringa was first formally described in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus and the description was published in Species Plantarum . [1] [8] The genus name Syringa is derived from Ancient Greek word syrinx meaning "pipe" or "tube" and refers to the hollow branches of S. vulgaris . [9] [10]

The English common name "lilac" is from the French lilac [7] [11] [12] via the Arabic ليلك ("lilak") from Persian نیلک ("nilak") meaning "bluish". [13]

Cultivation and uses

A white, double-flowered cultivar Lilac.head.600pix.jpg
A white, double-flowered cultivar
Dormant lilac buds Lilac buds.jpg
Dormant lilac buds

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. [14] 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 the poem "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd", by Walt Whitman, lilacs are 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. Royal Botanical Gardens Lilac Celebration.JPG
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:


Species and subspecies currently accepted as of July 2016: [1] [3]


  • 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) – cut-leaf lilac or cutleaf lilac
  • S. × persica L. (syn Syringa protolaciniata) – Persian lilac - Afghanistan, Pakistan, western Himalayas, Gansu, Qinghai
  • S. × prestoniae (S. komarowii × S. villosa)
  • S. × swegiflexa (S. komarowii × S. sweginzowii)

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  1. 1 2 3 4 "Syringa". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSP). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew . Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  2. Flora Europaea: Syringa
  3. 1 2 3 Flora of China: 丁香属 ding xiang shu Syringa
  4. 1 2 Flora of Pakistan: Syringa
  5. 1 2 Germplasm Resources Information Network: Syringa Archived 21 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  6. University of Oxford, Oleaceae information site: New classification of the Oleaceae
  7. 1 2 Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Macmillan ISBN   0-333-47494-5.
  8. Linnaeus, Carl (1 May 1753). Species Plantarum. London. p. 9. Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  9. Jensen, Bo. "Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)". Bo Jensen:Essential Oils. Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  12. Vedel, H., & Lange, J. (1960). Trees and Bushes in Wood and Hedgerow. Metheun & Co. Ltd., London.
  14. Hillier Nurseries, The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs, David and Charles, 1998, p. 659 ISBN   0-7153-0808-4
  16. "Franktown Lilac Festival". Lanark County Tourism. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  17. Biota of North America Program county distribution map, Syringa vulgaris