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 make 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.
This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.
All Common Names:
Tree or Plant Type:
- Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- Mixed border,
- Large shrub (more than 8 feet),
- Medium shrub (5-8 feet)
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
- Zone 3,
- Zone 4,
- Zone 5 (Chicago),
- Zone 6,
- Zone 7
- Acid soil,
- Moist, well-drained soil
- Occasional drought,
- Alkaline soil
Season of Interest:
- Mid spring,
- Late spring,
- Early fall
Flower Color & Fragrance:
Shape or Form:
Size & Form
Typically 8 to12 feet high and 6 to 10 feet wide.
Upright to irregular, multi-stemmed shrub.
Sizes vary with cultivar.
Tree & Plant Care
Best in full sun. Avoid shady sites. Needs good air circulation.
Prefers moist, organic rich, well-drained soils.
Intolerant of wet sites.
Flowers on old wood, prune after flowering.
Shallow rooted, a layer of mulch will moderate soil temperature fluctuations.
Disease, pests, and problems
The lilac is susceptible to many pest and disease problems.
Lilac borer, powdery mildew, verticillium wilt
Disease, pest, and problem resistance
Tolerant of salt, heavy clay soil, and deer
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, 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, 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
Clusters of smooth, brown, flattened, dehiscent seed capsules (each to 3/ 4” long) which persist into winter.
Cultivars and their differences
There are literally hundreds of common lilac cultivars in the nursery trade.
Albert F. Holden lilac (Syringa vulgaris 'Albert F. Holden): 8 to 10 feet high by 6 to 8 feet wide; upright habit; deep violet-purple flowers with silver underside.
Miss Ellen Willmot lilac (Syringa vulgaris 'Miss Ellen Willmott'): 10 to 12 feet high; rounded habit; double white flowers.
Ludwig Spaeth lilac (Syringa vulgaris 'Ludwig Spaeth'): 10 to 12 feet high; upright habit; reddish-purple flowers.
Monge lilac (Syringa vulgaris 'Monge'): 8 to 10 feet high; upright habit; dark reddish-purple flowers; long blooming.
President Grevy lilac (Syringa vulgaris 'President Grevy'): 10 to 12 feet high; upright habit; double lilac-blue flowers.
Sensation lilac (Syringa vulgaris 'Sensation'): 8 to 10 feet high; upright habit; purple flowers with white margins.