A Celebration of Lilacs

One of nature’s long-lived symbols of spring, lilacs bring fragrance, beauty, and nostalgia to every landscape they adorn.

Photo by Getty Images/fotolotos.

Beloved by bees and butterflies, a quality cover for birds and wildlife, and one of the most cherished blooms in America, the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) embodies everything we love about sweet, old-fashioned flowers. After all, is there any other fragrance that says “spring” as emphatically as the glorious scent of the lilac?

Lilacs are an intrinsic part of our collective horticultural heritage. The glory of their annual blooms may seem fleeting, but the longevity of the shrubs is what establishes them as a permanent fixture in our gardens and memories. These long-lived shrubs can survive for decades or even centuries, handed down through the generations. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, grew lilacs at Monticello beginning in 1771; a small group of these original lilacs are said to still grow on the estate to this day. The same may be true of the lilacs mentioned in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Farmer Boy. Lilacs growing today on the Wilder Homestead in Malone, New York, are believed to descend from the 19th-century lilacs described in her book.

Photo by Adobe Stock/Ortis.

Maybe lilacs remind you of the lilac-scented perfume your grandmother used to wear, or the sight of a lilac shrub in bloom takes you back to memories of the old family farmhouse. Nostalgia is undeniably at the heart of our deep-seated affection for lilacs, but nostalgia isn’t the only reason we love these splendid shrubs.

A Closer Look

The world abounds with gorgeous flowers, but the delicate beauty of the lilac certainly ranks it among the most superior. Lilacs belong to the genus Syringa (which means “tube” or “pipe”), and there are about 20 species and about 2,000 lilac cultivars. S. vulgaris is the most widely known species — hence its designation as the “common lilac” — but other popular species include Japanese tree lilacs (S. reticulata) and dwarf-type lilacs (S. meyeri, S. pubescens ssp. patula), among others.

6/4/2020 4:48:22 PM

Thanks for this article. Lilacs are my favorite flowers! There was a very large one where I'm living now, but it came to the end of it's life. The spot where it lived became too wet and the "trunks" rotted to the point that I could easily pull them out of the ground. ☹️ When I kick the bucket, I would like to be buried in our local natural cemetery and become food for a new lilac bush!



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