Lilacs are also called Syringa. It is a genus comprising about 20 recognized species and is a member of the Oleaceae family. Plants belonging to this family, counting cultivation of olive trees, ash trees, forsythia and jasmine, are extremely vital in agriculture, horticulture and silviculture.
Precisely speaking, lilacs include shrubs bearing aromatic flowers. Lilacs are not only relatively easier to grow, but they are extraordinarily robust plants having a long life span. Lilacs can be cultivated in small as well as large gardens. What is more important is that the blooming period of lilacs can be extended considerably by planting various different species and cultivars.
Lilacs or Syringa comprises just about 20 species and hybrids. Majority of the Syringa natural species have their origin in the south-eastern regions of Europe and eastern Asia, particularly China. The height of different lilac shrubs differs subject to the species. In addition, they produce flowers having an assortment of hues.
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The common lilacs (botanical name Syringa vulgaris) were a favourite of our grandmothers. Basically these shrubs have their origin in south-eastern Europe and the Austrian ambassador to Constantinople (now called Istanbul) Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq was responsible for introducing them to Central Europe sometime around 1563. Later, the early European immigrants carried the lilac forms bearing a solitary white or violet flower, which are very common in our rural landscape these days, to North America.
As all are aware that perfumes are a special fascination of the people in France and they embraced lilacs very fondly. Not only did they embrace these aromatic flowering shrubs, but also transformed the plants of the species in such a beautiful manner that generally speaking, irrespective of their origin, we can call nearly the entire Syringa vulgaris cultivars to be French hybrids. The French knew what to do with the common lilacs and, hence, they revitalized the species by developing bigger clusters of larger flowers, at times double flowers. They not only transformed the white common lilacs, but even the colored ones with pinkish blue and pale pink hues through purple, magenta and violet. The efforts of the French helped to offer us aromatic lilac flowers that swathed the shrubs all over.
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Soon after Syringa vulgaris was introduced into North America, a host of other striking Syringa species made their way into the continent. Most of these Syringa species were discovered in a period that is known to be one of the most competitive eras of exploring new plants that has been described by a Victorian as "the era of Omnium-Gatherum". It is worth mentioning here that for about two hundred years beginning sometime during the middle of the 18th century botanists explored new plants and discovered several thousand new plants that are now commonly grown in many gardens, such as forsythias, lilacs, magnolias, mock oranges and rhododendrons. As far as the exploration, uprooting and transportation of new plants was concerned, it was an era when there was no restraints. Various Syringa species were collected from different parts of the world. For instance, S. pekinenis was shipped from China during the mid-1700s, S. pubescent arrived in 1880, S. oblata came in 1856 and S. villosa in 1889. Places like Paris, St. Petersburg, Kew Gardens in the U. K, and the Arnold Arboretum in the U.S. became the largest centers of lilac collections.
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Several botanists in Europe developed a variety of lilac cultivars during the later part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. Noted French breeders and nursery cultivators Victor Lemoine and Emile Lemoine were prominent among these botanists. All these new lilac cultivars were named French lilacs and today the groups of lilac cultivars that blossom during the end of May are known as French lilacs. Since then, cultivars belonging to the Syringa vulgaris kept on increasing owing to the efforts of breeders in Europe as well as North America. Currently, Hamilton, Ontario-based Royal Botanical Gardens is the global authority that registers all latest lilac cultivars.
Hyacinth lilacs (botanical name Syringa x hyacinthiflora) are another lilac group, which includes cultivars bred from S. oblata and S. vulgaris. Plants belonging to this lilac group bloom quite early in the season, sometime during the middle of May. Some of these attractive shrubs also bear aromatic single or double blooms subject to the cultivar. The cultivar called Clarke's Giant produces one of the biggest flower panicles among the shrubs belonging to Hyacinth lilacs.
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Yet another lilac group called Preston lilacs (botanical name Syringa x prestoniae), which was designated to honour the noted botanist of the Ottawa Experimental Farm Isabella Preston, has been developed by crossing S. villosa and S. reflexa. These lilacs are vase-shaped and they bloom much later, sometime during the middle of June. The leaves of shrubs belonging to Preston lilacs are usually ruffled and they produce very aromatic small tubular blooms. Preston lilacs seldom produce suckers, if any.
The beautiful Asian lilacs comprise the fourth group of Syringa. The Asian lilacs include the Japanese tree lilacs (botanical name S. reticulata ssp. reticulata), the Amur tree lilacs (botanical name S. reticulata ssp. amurensis) and the Peking tree lilacs (botanical name S. reticulata ssp. pekinensis). A number of cultivars belonging to the Asian lilacs may grow up to a height of about 24 feet (8 meters). Often, these species are cultivated in the form of shrubs or trees. They flower late in the season, during the start of July. The flowers are creamy white, while the bark of the trees is golden colored. An Asian lilac cultivar named "Ivory Silk" is extremely popular and it is more tree-like compared to the other species in the group.
Syringa x chinensis is a hybrid lilac species that bears very lovely small, compacted leaves, while its blooms are also small and have a light mauve hue. This plant blooms in early June. On the other hand, the hybrid lilac species named Syringa x persica bears abundance of flowers, which come in a pinkish-lavender hue and are potently aromatic.
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The lilac species called Syringa villosa is a bushy shrub that grows very robustly and is an excellent plant for growing in containers. This plant also flowers prolifically during the middle of June. Another lilac species named "Palibin" (botanical name Syringa meyeri) is a densely growing dwarf cultivar that grows up to a height of 1.5 meters and is ideal for growing in rock gardens and as a hedge plant. "Palibin" is often found top-grafted and it bears small light mauve hued flowers during the middle of June. Sometimes the small, subtle leaves of this lilac species become attractive orange hued during fall.
Another small, densely growing lilac plant is named "Miss Kim" (botanical name Syringa patula). This plant bears light mauve hued flowers during the middle of June. Syringa patula is perfect for growing as a screen or a specimen. The color of the leaves of this lilac plant may sometimes change to burgundy during fall.
Another lilac cultivar called Syringa "Bailbelle" is marketed under the name Tinkerbelle. This is a dwarf lilac cultivar that produces tubular light pink hued flowers. Syringa "Bailbelle" is created by crossing lilac species S. meyeri "Palibin" and S. microphylla "Superba".
There are various different uses of lilacs in a garden. For instance, lilacs may be grown as specimens, in rock gardens, to make screens or hedges or also in the form of patio plants.
You can grow lilacs almost everywhere and in all types of soils and climatic conditions. Just imagine how the lilacs grow in the field. Neither are these plants sterilized, not cut back. They grow naturally and yet Solomon in his entire magnificence was not displayed like any of these.
There was a time when the lilac was known to be a "poor man's flower". This is primarily because the ordinary lilacs formed the chain letters of horticulture. One just finds and collects a rooted lilac shoot from the shrub's base and transplants it in some other place - it may be any place, as lilacs grow almost everywhere and in all conditions. In fact, you may dig up mature lilac shrubs and transplant them elsewhere. Lilacs can not only grow in virtually all types of soils, but they also possess the aptitude to endure arid, hot summers, cold winters and droughts. Lilacs do not demand much care and are generous as well as ideal plants for growing in your garden. Lilacs are extremely tenacious and they grow wonderfully and profusely - at times very prolifically.