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Common Lilac

Syringa vulgaris

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Oleaceae (Olive)
Deciduous shrub
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
7 metres tall
Gardens, hedgerows, parks, woodland.

Variable in colour, 4 petals
White, lilac or purple clusters, 4 petals.
A brown capsule, up to 2cm in length.
A deciduous shrub. Light green, hairless, heart-shaped leaves. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs along the stems.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Syringa vulgaris, also known as the common lilac, is a species of flowering plant in the olive family (Oleaceae). It is native to the Balkans and western Asia, but it is now widely cultivated as an ornamental plant throughout the world.

It is a large shrub or small tree that can grow up to 7m tall, with smooth grey bark and branches that are covered in a dense network of twigs. The leaves are opposite, simple and ovate, measuring around 10cm long and 5cm wide. The flowers are showy and fragrant, with a tubular shape, and they grow in large clusters at the tips of the branches. They are typically pale purple, but they can also be pink, white, or deep purple.

The common lilac is very popular as an ornamental plant and it is often used in gardens and parks. The flowers are used to make perfumes and the plant is also used in traditional medicine. The plant is easy to grow and it prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It is hardy in zones 3-7 and it is tolerant to drought, but it needs regular water to keep the soil moist. It is propagated by cuttings, layering or by seeds. The blooming period is around April to May, depending on the climate.

It is a hardy plant that can live for many years, and it is often considered an heirloom plant, passed down through generations of gardeners.


The Common Lilac, Syringa vulgaris, is a popular ornamental plant that is widely cultivated for its fragrant and beautiful flowers. It is native to southeastern Europe and is a member of the olive family, Oleaceae. Lilacs have been cultivated for centuries, and their popularity as garden plants continues to this day.

Appearance and Characteristics

The Common Lilac is a deciduous shrub that can grow up to 7 meters tall, although most garden cultivars are smaller, ranging from 1.5 to 3 meters in height. The plant has large, heart-shaped leaves that are dark green and glossy. The flowers are arranged in large clusters called panicles, which can be up to 20 cm long. The individual flowers are small, with four petals, and range in color from white to pink to purple. The flowers are highly fragrant and are a favorite of many gardeners and florists.

Growing Conditions

The Common Lilac is a hardy plant that can tolerate a wide range of growing conditions. It prefers full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Lilacs are relatively drought-tolerant but will perform best if they are watered regularly during the growing season. They are also relatively disease and pest-resistant, although they can be susceptible to powdery mildew and lilac borers.

Cultivars and Varieties

There are hundreds of cultivars and varieties of the Common Lilac, each with its own unique characteristics. Some popular cultivars include:

  • 'Sensation' - This cultivar has deep purple flowers with white margins.
  • 'Madame Lemoine' - This cultivar has pure white flowers that are highly fragrant.
  • 'Charles Joly' - This cultivar has deep purple flowers that are highly fragrant.
  • 'Monge' - This cultivar has deep reddish-purple flowers that are highly fragrant.


The Common Lilac is primarily grown for its ornamental value. The fragrant flowers are prized by gardeners and florists alike and are often used in bouquets and floral arrangements. Lilacs are also used as a hedge or border plant, and their large size and dense foliage make them an excellent choice for providing privacy and screening. Additionally, the plant's wood is sometimes used for making small items such as pipes, tool handles, and musical instruments.

Benefits of Growing Common Lilac

In addition to their ornamental value, Common Lilacs have several other benefits. Here are some of the reasons why you might want to consider growing this beautiful plant:

  • Attracts Pollinators: The fragrant flowers of the Common Lilac are a magnet for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. This makes the plant an excellent choice for gardeners who want to attract beneficial insects to their garden.

  • Provides Shade: Common Lilacs have a dense growth habit that can provide shade and shelter for smaller plants and animals. This can help to create a more diverse and balanced ecosystem in your garden.

  • Low Maintenance: Lilacs are relatively low maintenance plants that require little attention once established. They are drought tolerant and disease resistant, which means that they can thrive in a variety of growing conditions.

  • Aromatherapy: The sweet fragrance of Common Lilacs is believed to have a calming effect on the mind and body. This makes them an excellent choice for creating a relaxing outdoor space or for use in aromatherapy.

  • Edible: The flowers of Common Lilacs are edible and can be used in a variety of culinary applications. They can be added to salads, baked goods, and even used to make lilac syrup.

Growing Common Lilac

If you're interested in growing Common Lilacs, here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Choose a Sunny Location: Lilacs prefer full sun to partial shade, so be sure to choose a location that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day.

  • Plant in Well-Drained Soil: Lilacs prefer well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. If your soil is heavy or clay-based, consider amending it with compost or other organic matter to improve drainage.

  • Water Regularly: While lilacs are relatively drought tolerant, they will perform best if they are watered regularly during the growing season. Be sure to water deeply, as shallow watering can encourage shallow roots.

  • Prune Annually: Lilacs should be pruned annually to promote healthy growth and flowering. Prune in late spring or early summer, after the flowers have faded, but before the new growth appears.

  • Fertilize Sparingly: Lilacs do not require a lot of fertilizer, and over-fertilization can actually reduce flowering. If you choose to fertilize, do so sparingly, and use a balanced fertilizer.

Common Lilacs are a beautiful and versatile plant that can enhance any garden or landscape. Whether you're looking to attract pollinators, provide shade and shelter, or simply enjoy the sweet fragrance of their flowers, Common Lilacs are an excellent choice for any gardener.

History and Cultural Significance

The Common Lilac has a long and rich history that dates back to ancient times. It is believed to have originated in southeastern Europe and was first cultivated by the Greeks and Romans for its fragrance and beauty. In the 16th century, the plant was introduced to France, where it became popular among the nobility and was widely cultivated in the gardens of Versailles.

During the 19th century, the Common Lilac became popular in North America, where it was widely grown for its ornamental value. It was also used by early settlers for medicinal purposes, as the plant was believed to have astringent and anti-inflammatory properties.

Today, the Common Lilac remains a popular garden plant and is celebrated in many cultures around the world. In the United States, the plant is the state flower of New Hampshire, and Lilac festivals are held annually in many towns and cities throughout the country. In Japan, the plant is associated with the arrival of spring and is celebrated during the annual cherry blossom festival.

Symbolism and Meaning

The Common Lilac is rich in symbolism and meaning. In many cultures, the plant is associated with love, romance, and beauty. It is often given as a gift to express admiration and affection, and is a popular choice for weddings and other special occasions.

In the language of flowers, lilacs symbolize innocence, purity, and youthful innocence. They are also associated with the beginning of spring and the renewal of life.

In some cultures, lilacs are believed to have spiritual significance. In ancient Greek mythology, the plant was associated with Pan, the god of nature and the wild. In medieval Europe, the plant was believed to ward off evil spirits and protect against the plague.

Types of Common Lilac

While the most common variety of Common Lilac is the Syringa vulgaris, there are many other types of lilacs to choose from. Here are a few popular varieties:

  • Dwarf Korean Lilac (Syringa meyeri 'Palibin'): This variety of lilac is a smaller plant that grows to about 4-5 feet tall and wide. It produces fragrant, lavender-pink flowers in late spring.

  • Persian Lilac (Syringa x persica): This variety of lilac is a smaller shrub that grows to about 6-8 feet tall and wide. It produces fragrant, pale purple flowers in early spring.

  • Chinese Lilac (Syringa x chinensis): This variety of lilac is a larger shrub that grows to about 8-10 feet tall and wide. It produces fragrant, pink or lavender flowers in mid- to late spring.

  • Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris): This is the most well-known variety of lilac and can grow to be a large shrub or small tree, reaching heights of up to 20 feet. It produces fragrant, lavender, pink, or white flowers in late spring.

Uses of Common Lilac

Aside from their ornamental value, Common Lilacs have several uses. Here are a few ways to use this plant:

  • Cut Flowers: Lilac flowers are a popular choice for cut flower arrangements due to their beauty and fragrance. They can be used alone or mixed with other flowers for a stunning display.

  • Aromatherapy: Lilacs are often used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation and relieve stress. Lilac essential oil can be diffused or used topically to enjoy the plant's calming properties.

  • Culinary Uses: As mentioned earlier, the flowers of Common Lilacs are edible and can be used in a variety of culinary applications. They can be used to flavor syrups, jams, and jellies, and can even be added to baked goods for a unique and delicious flavor.

  • Medicinal Uses: In traditional medicine, lilacs have been used to treat a variety of ailments, including respiratory issues, skin irritations, and digestive problems. While there is limited scientific research to support these claims, lilacs are still used in some natural remedies and herbal preparations.

In conclusion, the Common Lilac is a beautiful and versatile plant with a rich history and cultural significance. Whether you're looking to enhance your garden or enjoy the plant's many uses, the Common Lilac is a great choice for any gardener or nature enthusiast. With its stunning flowers and sweet fragrance, this plant is sure to bring joy and beauty to your outdoor space for years to come.


Common Lilac filmed at Formby, Lancashire on the 8th May 2023.


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