The Lilac Flower
Lilac: A Cheerful Herald of Warmth
Few fragrances signal the arrival of spring as clearly and sweetly as that of the lilac flower. These beautiful bushes are a favorite of floral enthusiasts everywhere, thanks in part to both their vast varieties and breathtaking colors.
A hardy ornamental, lilac bushes may not be technically native to the United States, but they've certainly found a home here with enthusiastic gardeners, who use them for everything from privacy hedges to simple botanical yard decoration.
The latin name for the lilac bush is syringa vulgaris. The first part of the name may appear similar to that doctor's office staple, the syringe, for good reason. Syringa refers to a group of plants similar to the mock orange, whose stems were once used as stand-ins for smoking pipes.
In addition, in Greek mythology, a beautiful nymph of the same name turned herself into a lilac to escape the amorous advances of the god Pan. The second half of the name, vulgaris, thankfully does not reflect on the more modern meaning of vulgar, but on the original latin meaning of "common", or easily found.
Lilac in modern parlance is used as often to refer to the creamy pastel purple of the lilac tree as it is to the purple lilac flower itself. The original meaning then, should be of no surprise: it comes from the Persian word for indigo, or purple. Even in ancient times, our ancestors appreciated the singular beauty of this self-titled flower color.
Lilacs are not native to the United States, despite their clear popularity in the region. In reality, growing lilacs is a practice that started in eastern Europe and Asia.
Once imported, however, planting lilacs became just as familiar a practice here, with settlers of the new world embracing the cultivation of this fragrant flower. Today, varietals ranging from the California lilac to a more traditional dwarf Korean lilac prove that these lovely flowers are a great fit anywhere!
Description and Characteristics
IA favorite flower for little girls playing dress-up, the flowers of lilac bushes don't need any special treatment to look lovely. Characterized by single cones or clusters of cones made up of small four-petaled flowers, the cuttings of the branches are naturally showy, thanks to broad, dark green leaves contrasting beneath.
The clusters of flowers are called panicles, a word that refers to the random nature of the individual flower placement as well as their relatively short floral stems.
These flowers can be found in a wide array of lilac varieties that deviate from the familiar soft purple, including:
Few plants could boast a reputation for being simultaneously unlucky as well as a love charm, but lilacs have managed it. The old world origins lend superstition to the white variety of this flowering shrub, claiming that bringing colorless lilacs into the home ensures everything from mischievous fairy interference to illness and misfortune.
Purple lilacs, however, have long been rumored to celebrate young love, and make a popular gift among youthful suitors as well as being the traditional floral of the eighth wedding anniversary. The flowering time of the lilac bush is also said to herald an early or late arrival of warmth in the spring season.
Cultivation and Care
Lilacs love the sun, so when planting a lilac it is very important to choose a spot that enjoys a great deal of sun. Much like roses, lilac pruning is essential in keeping the plant healthy and well-shaped, though lilacs will generally continue to grow regardless of whether the owner is adept at pruning lilac bushes.
To properly practice trimming lilacs, clip off flowers immediately after they have faded and remove about a third of the overall branches to encourage growth.
Suckers that are growing near the ground should either be used for lilac transplanting or cut off to re-direct nutrients to the main plant. For the best manageable size, keep the tree to ten feet tall or less.
Diseases and Pests
Lilacs grow in a fairly dense bush due to their large flowers and abundant leaves, which blocks out sun and airflow and makes them susceptible to mildew. While it may seem difficult to a gardener struggling with it, lilac care to remove mildew is very easy.
Simply trim away some leaves and flower clusters around the top to allow sunlight in (this is especially important for varieties like reblooming lilac bushes), and snip off any branches growing towards the "trunk", which will encourage airflow.
For especially stubborn cases of lilac mildew, a fungicide that uses neem tree extract may help chase the mildew away faster.
Lilac flowers can be "pressed" into service via a wide assortment of usable or decorative applications, including:
- Dried Flowers
- Homemade Soaps
- Pressed Flower Decorations
- Wedding Flowers
- Edible Candied Flowers
These creative and fun uses make great gifts and thoughtful inclusions on decor around the house. Lilacs are an abundantly flowering plant, which means the crafty gardener will have lots of raw material to work with if they want to experiment with using the blooms for artistic endeavors.
Lilac Lovers Unite
Those gardeners that can't seem to get enough of lilacs would do well to stop by the annual Lilac Festival in Rochester, New York. Held each year around April or May, this event is a lilac lover's paradise, with shows, parades and even a lilac-scented assortment of presents available in the gift shop.
Click thumbnails to see pictures: