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17 Different Types of Lilac Trees & Their Identifying Features (With Photos)

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Written By Lyrae Willis

Environmental Scientist & Plant Ecologist

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Home » Tree Types » 17 Different Types of Lilac Trees & Their Identifying Features (With Photos)

Lilacs are a lovely group of shrubs and trees with beautiful, colorful, and usually heavily fragranced flowers in dense clusters that bloom in mid-spring.

True lilacs are of the Syringa genus, with 12 currently accepted species worldwide that mostly thrive in cold to mild temperate climates in Asia and Europe. In fact, only a few of the species and cultivars will grow south of USDA Zone 7.

Given their love of cold winters, it would be hard to imagine that they are most closely related to the olive trees of the Mediterranean than they are to any of the other popular ornamental flowers grown commercially.

But don’t despair if you live in a warm temperate or subtropical climate – there are lilacs that you can grow as well!

In this guide, we will learn to identify lilac trees and lilac bush varieties and look at some of the different types of lilacs worldwide.

Contents show

Lilac Tree Identification Guide (With Photos)

Identifying Lilac Trees by Their Leaf Arrangement

Most varieties of lilacs have simple (not compound) leaves that are arranged in opposite pairs along the branches, although occasionally, they may appear in whorls of three. This will help differentiate them from other shrubs with similar leaves that are arranged alternately along the stem.

Leaf Attach - 4 Square - alternate opposite subopposite whorled
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

A lesser-known species out of China has odd-pinnate compound leaves with leaflets that are arranged oppositely or sub-oppositely and have a terminal leaflet at the end of their leaves.

Compound vs Simple Leaves - 2 Square - simple oddpinnate
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Lilac Trees by Their Leaf Shapes

People normally describe lilacs as having heart-shaped (cordate) leaves, but since there are many species and cultivars, and variability within species, there are actually several different leaf shapes seen in lilacs.

Being able to describe the shape of the leaf will help you identify some of the different species and cultivars.

Lilac tree leaves can be:

  • Cordate – heart-shaped with the petiole in the cleft.
  • Ovate – egg-shaped, widest at the base.
  • Lanceolate – lance-shaped or narrowly ovate, with a length-to-width ratio of 3:1 or greater.
  • Elliptic – shaped like an ellipse, widest in the middle and narrowing at both ends.
  • Obovate – like ovate but widest at the tip.
  • Round or nearly round – also called orbicular or suborbicular.
Leaf Shape - 6 Square - cordate elliptic lanceolate obovate orbicular ovate
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Leaf Trees by Their Leaf Tips (Apex)

The shape of the leaf tip in lilacs tends not to vary much, but when other leaf tips are seen, they can be helpful clues in identifying the different species of lilacs.

Lilac leaf tips can be:

  • Acuminate – the most common by far, where the tip narrows to a long or sometimes short drawn-out tip.
  • Acute – the two sides are more or less straight and meet at an angle of less than 90°.
  • Obtuse – the two sides are more or less straight and meet at an angle greater than 90°.
  • Truncate – appearing cut off abruptly as though sheared by scissors.
Leaf Apex - 4 Square - acuminate acute obtuse truncate
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Lilac Trees by Their Leaf Base

Leaf bases in lilacs also do not vary so much, but when they do can be used to help identify the different types of lilacs.

The base of lilac leaves can be:

  • Cordate – cleft with an indent that the petiole sits in, creating a lobe on either side, like the base of a heart. Sometimes the cleft is shallow and called subcordate.
  • Truncate – appearing cut off abruptly as though done by scissors.
  • Obtuse – the two sides are more or less straight and meet at an angle greater than 90°.
  • Rounded – having no angles or sides, smooth.
  • Cuneate – wedge-shaped, where the two sides meet at an angle less than 90°.
  • Oblique – asymmetrical, when one side is longer, shorter, bigger, or smaller than the other.
Leaf Base - 6 Square - cordate cuneate round oblique obtuse truncate
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Lilac Trees by Their Leaf Margins

Lilac leaf margins are mostly entire, having no teeth, lobes, or other features.

California Lilac, not a true lilac, has dentate to denticulate margins with often sharp, pointy teeth. Dentate is a form of squarish or triangular teeth that are directed outwards, away from the middle of the leaf. This is different from the more common type of toothed margin called serrate, where the sharp teeth typically point forward toward the tip of the leaf.

Denticulate is just a word that describes very small dentate teeth.

Dentate margins, along with the blue flower color, will help distinguish California Lilacs from true lilacs.

Leaf Margins - 3 Square - dentate entire serrate
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Lilac Trees by Their Plant Hairs (Trichomes)

Plant hairs, properly called trichomes, are a very interesting feature seen in many plants that help protect their surfaces and help us to identify different species.

In general, lilacs are not very hairy plants. However, some hairs are seen on leaf and stem surfaces. The hairs seen in lilacs include:

  • Pubescent – short, straight hairs that are soft to the touch.
  • Puberulent – like pubescent, soft and straight, but the hairs are very short.
  • Pilose – like pubescent, soft and straight, but the hairs are longer.
  • Farinose – covered with very short hairs that appear like a mealy dusty coating.
Surfaces - 4 Square - farinose pilose puberulent pubescent
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Lilac Trees by Their Inflorescences

All lilac trees have many flowers arranged in panicle inflorescences.

A panicle is a branched type of inflorescence where each branch has more than one flower.

More specifically, a panicle is a branched raceme where each branch itself is a raceme.

A raceme is an unbranched inflorescence made of multiple flowers, each attached to a central floral stalk by small individual flower stalks (pedicels). A raceme is spike-like except that the lilac flowers are on stalks rather than being sessile.

Inflorescences - 2 Square - panicle raceme
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Lilac Trees by Their Flowers

All lilacs, true and California, have flowers with tubular corollas that are made of connate or fused petals.

The corolla of a flower is the collection of petals in a flower. We often refer to it as a corolla when the petals are fused for at least part of their length, compared to flowers with free petals, where we often just describe the petals.

In lilac trees, the corolla is made of fused petals shaped into a tube that then flares out into lobes at the end of the tube. Most lilacs have four lobes that spread widely away from each other, although sometimes lilac flowers with five lobes are seen.

Since there is not much variability other than size and color, we do not rely on this feature that much for plant identification at the species level, but knowing what the flower looks like can help you identify the plant as a lilac.

Some cultivars have flowers that are described as double-flowered. A double-flowered cultivar has genetics that are selected for the production of abnormal flowers that produce twice the normal amount of petals, hence double-flowered. In the case of lilacs, this means that they produce corollas with 8 – 10 (or more) lobes instead of the usual 4 – 5.

The stamens are the male organs of the lilac flowers and are made of a filament (stalk) and an anther (the pollen-producing organ of the flower). In most species of lilacs, the stamens are inserted in the corolla tube and do not extend beyond it. You can often see the tops of the anthers in the mouth of the tube.

Some lilac species have exserted stamens that extend out beyond the mouth of the tube. The presence of exserted stamens will make it easy to identify those species.

Lilac Flower Morphology - 3 Square
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Lilac Trees by Their Fruits

All lilacs, true and California Lilac, produce capsules for their fruits.

A capsule is a dry fruit that splits open when ripe to release seeds. In lilacs, the capsules are generally small and split into two halves, releasing two seeds.

Some hybrids and cultivars will not produce capsules at all since they are sterile, others may only occasionally produce them, and others will produce them just as often as the type species.

We will not use these features to identify the different types of lilacs, but again, knowing what they look like can help you identify a tree as a lilac long after the blooms are finished.

The photo below shows the green or unripe capsules of a Common Purple Lilac.

Lilac Fruits
Image by Frank Vincentz, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Identifying Lilac Trees by Tree Habit and Branch Growth

The branching pattern typically determines the overall habit or form that a lilac tree has when viewed from a distance.

Lilacs are almost always upright shrubs or small trees that have a more or less rounded form.

These are typically made of spreading branches that are a combination of ascending (directed towards the top of the tree), horizontal (growing out from the trunk or stem at a 90-degree angle), and descending (where the branch is directed down towards the base of the tree).

Lilac branches sometimes become pendulous at their tips, where they start out ascending but often droop strongly downwards at the tips under the weight of the flowers.

Branch Morphology - 4 Square - ascending descending horizontal pendulous
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

17 Different Types of Lilac Trees & Their Identifying Features

1. Common Purple Lilac – Syringa vulgaris

Common Purple Lilac - Grid 2 Square
Images via Nature Hills and Fast-Growing-Trees – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

The Common Purple Lilac, as the name suggests, is the most common lilac commercially grown and from which numerous cultivars have been developed. It is one of the most popular lilac tree varieties.

It has lovely lavender-purple flowers with the classic lilac scent that stimulates your senses and attracts countless bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators to your yard.

It is an incredibly easy-to-grow deciduous shrub that is best grown in full sun in any soil type with medium moisture.

It is very cold-hardy, tolerating severe winters, including freezing winds, making them suitable for use as a windbreak.

It is, however, not very heat tolerant, and like most lilacs, it requires a cold winter to bloom the following year.

It is originally native to Europe but has been introduced around the temperate world.

It was brought to the USA in the 1700s and is grown all over North America, but it is not on any invasive species lists there.

Identifying Features of the Common Purple Lilac

Common Purple Lilac is an upright shrub growing to 15 ft tall and nearly as wide.

Leaves are ovate to cordate, 2 – 4” long, 0.8 – 2.4” wide, with cordate, obtuse, somewhat rounded, or truncate bases and acuminate tips. They are bright green and hairless with the texture of soft, thin leather (subcoriaceous).

Flowers are arranged in large panicles arising from lateral buds without leaves at their base.

Flowers are fragrant in lavender-purple, white, azure, or red.

The calyx is short, 4-toothed, farinose, and glandular-ciliate along the margin. Corolla tube is narrowly cylindrical, about 0.4” long, with 4(5) more or less rounded lobes and anthers inserted or included in the tube (not extending beyond).

Fruit is a smooth, lustrous brown capsule 0.4 – 0.6” long and 0.2” wide, splitting into two parts when mature to release 2 winged seeds.

Other Common Names: Lilac, Common Lilac.

Native Area: Balkan Peninsula in Europe, where it grows on rocky hills.

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 8 – 15 ft tall, 6 – 12 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available (from left to right):

Common Purple Lilac Cultivars - Grid 4 Square
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize
  1. Monge Lilac Syringa vulgaris ‘Monge’ is a French Hybrid cultivar that has been grown for at least 100 years for its panicles of reddish-purple flowers that do not disappoint in their abundance and their fragrance, in a shrub to 12 ft tall and wide it is compact enough to fit in most yards in USDA Zones 3 – 7 – Image via Nature Hills.
  2. Yankee Doodle Lilac Syringa vulgaris ‘Yankee Doodle’ is a compact shrub growing to 10 ft tall and only 6 ft wide, small enough to fit in most urban landscapes, and it’s hardy down to USDA Zone 2, giving options to those in colder climates. And the best part of all is its gorgeous deep purple, intensely fragrant blossoms. – Image via Nature Hills.
  3. President Grevy Lilac Syringa vulgaris ‘President Grevy’ is a gorgeous heirloom cultivar with double blossoms of iced pale blue lavender flowers in vertical upright panicles that last for weeks every spring. It grows to 12 ft tall and 10 ft wide and is hardy in USDA Zones 3 – 7. – Image via Nature Hills.
  4. Tinkerbelle® Lilac Syringa ‘Bailbelle’ is a petite shrub covered with fragrant panicles of sweet dark pink buds that open to beautiful light pink blossoms in a size compact enough to fit in almost any yard at only 6 ft tall and 5 ft wide. – Image via Nature Hills.

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

2. Common White Lilac – Syringa vulgaris ‘Alba’

Common White Lilac - Grid 2 Square
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work, and Famartin, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Common White Lilac is a variant of the Common Purple Lilac that produces pure snow-white blossoms in the same large panicles of flowers and the same beautiful scent, but perhaps even more heavily scented.

Other than the color, the other significant differences between the two are that this variety tops out at around 10 ft tall and wide, and it is more cold-hardy than the type species, thriving well in USDA Zones 2 – 7.

It makes a fantastic windscreen or privacy screen and can be used in borders, lawns, and with larger trees to add structural diversity and color to the landscape.

While it is often listed as Syringa vulgaris ssp alba or Syringa var alba, it is simply a white variant of Syringa vulgaris rather than its own official subspecies or variety.

Identifying Features of the Common White Lilac

Common White Lilac is an upright shrub growing to 10 ft tall and equally as wide.

Leaves are ovate to cordate, 2 – 4” long, 0.8 – 2.4” wide, with cordate, obtuse, or somewhat rounded bases and acuminate tips. They are bright green and hairless with a subcoriaceous texture.

Flowers are arranged in large panicles arising from lateral buds without leaves at their base.

Flowers are very fragrant and snow-white; some cultivars have double flowers.

The calyx is 4-toothed, farinose, and glandular-ciliate along the margin. The corolla tube is narrowly cylindrical, about 0.4” long, with 4 (5) lobes and anthers inserted or included in the tube (not extending beyond).

Fruit is a smooth brown capsule 0.4 – 0.6” long, 0.2” wide, that splits into two and releases two winged seeds.

Other Common Names: White Lilac

Native Area: Europe and Asia.

USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 8 – 10 ft tall, 8 – 10 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available (left to right):

Common White Lilac Cultivars - Grid 2 Square
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize
  1. New Age White Lilac Syringa vulgaris ‘G13103’ is a naturally dwarfed old-fashioned white lilac shrub that is compact enough to fit in the smallest of landscapes, growing to only 5 ft tall and wide, it can even be grown in a pot on a patio. It has good resistance to powdery mildew. Classic panicles of fragrant white blossoms will attract loads of pollinators to your yard. – Image via Nature Hills.
  2. Madame Lemoine Lilac Syringa vulgaris ‘Madame Lemoine’ is often considered one of the best white-flowering French hybrids that bloom profusely for nearly a month with large panicles of intensely fragrant double-flowered pure white blossoms. – Image via Nature Hills.

Available at: Nature Hills

3. Agincourt Beauty Lilac – Syringa vulgaris ‘Agincourt Beauty

Agincourt Beauty - Grid 2 Square
Images via Nature Hills – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Agincourt Beauty is renowned for having the largest individual flowers of all the lilacs in a gorgeous vibrant violet color; some consider it to be the best purple lilac you can buy and it is popular among gardeners.

The flowers are also highly scented with the same classic sweet lilac fragrance of the type species.

Butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators will fill your yard as the blossoms open in late April or early May, attracted to the delicious nectar within.

It gets its name from Agincourt, Ontario, Canada, where it was first developed from a cross between ‘Frank Peterson’ and ‘Dr. Brethour’.

Highly adaptable and easy to grow, it is best grown in full sun in any moderately moist soil type.

Identifying Features of the Agincourt Beauty Lilac

Agincourt Beauty Lilac is an upright shrub growing to 12 ft tall and 10 ft wide.

Leaves are rich bluish-green, cordate, 2 – 4” long, 0.8 – 2.4” wide, with mostly cordate to obtuse bases and acuminate tips.

Flowers are arranged in large panicles arising from lateral buds.

Floral buds are dark purple, opening to rich purple, and exceptionally fragrant blossoms with the largest single flowers of any lilac species or cultivar.

The corolla tube is narrowly cylindrical, and the anthers are inserted in the mouth of the corolla tube.

Other Common Names: N/A

Origin: Cultivar from Agincourt, Ontario, Canada, registered in 1971.

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 12 ft tall, 8 – 10 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills

4. Bloomerang® Lilac – Syringa ‘SMSJBP7’ PP26549

Bloomerang Lilac - Grid 2 Square
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work, and via Fast-Growing-Trees – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

If you love lilacs and wish their blossoms would last longer, then Bloomerang Lilac is the one for you.

It blooms profusely in mid-May with the other lilacs, then rests for the month of June before blooming again in July and remaining on the shrubs until the first fall frost.

They are smaller shrub varieties growing to about 5 ft tall and wide, making them a great choice for small gardens or filling spaces between trees or other larger shrubs.

This variety is also grown as tree lilacs.

It also makes a great low hedge or border shrub and can even be grown in a container on your patio.

Unlike most lilacs, this lilac bush can be grown in full sun and in partial shade, though it will produce fewer flowers in full shade.

Best grown in any average soil with medium moisture.

Like most lilacs, it performs poorly above USDA Zone 7.

Identifying Features of the Bloomerang Lilac

Bloomerang Lilac is a small shrub growing to about 5 ft tall and wide with an upright rounded habit and ascending branches that become pendulous at the tips under the weight of the flowers.

This lilacs leaves are ovate to cordate, light to dark green, with somewhat cordate, rounded, or obtuse bases and acuminate tips. New leaves are often pubescent, typically becoming hairless when mature.

Flowers are arranged in large panicles of typical lilac-type flowers with a tubular corolla and 4(5) lobes that may be purple or pink, depending on the cultivar.

Other Common Names: N/A

Origin: BLOOMERANG ® is a trademark of Spring Meadow Nursery, Inc. that covers several reblooming cultivars and was registered on July 14, 2009.

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 4 – 5 ft tall, 4 – 5 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available:

Bloomerang Pink Perfume Lilac - Grid 2 Square
  1. Bloomerang® Pink Perfume Lilac Syringa x BLOOMERANG ‘Pink Perfume’ is a compact shrub growing 4 – 6 ft tall and wide with profuse, superbly fragrant panicles of pink blossoms, making a great pink addition to your lilac collection. Images via Nature Hills and Spring Meadow – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize.

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

5. Beauty of Moscow Lilac – Syringa vulgaris ‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’

Beauty of Moscow Lilac - Grid 2 Square
Images via Nature Hills – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Krasavitsa Moskvy literally translates to “Beauty of Moscow,” a delightful shrub with light pink buds that open to highly fragrant, white, double-flowered blossoms.

Since the flowers open at different times, you will have a mix of soft pink and white to provide additional color variety to your spring garden.

This kind of lilac grows to about the same height and spread as the type species, compact enough for most gardens.

Best grown in full sun in any average soil with medium moisture.

Highly adaptable and cold-tolerant down to USDA Zone 3.

It does not tolerate heat and performs poorly above USDA Zone 7. It would benefit from a small amount of afternoon shade in Zones 6 and 7 areas with hotter summers.

It will attract countless pollinators to your yard, and it is deer resistant.

Identifying Features of the Beauty of Moscow Lilac

Beauty of Moscow Lilac is a medium-sized lilac bush growing up to 12 ft tall and 8 ft wide with ascending branches that often become pendulous at their tips under the weight of the flowers.

Leaves are medium green, ovate to cordate in shape, with cordate to rounded or somewhat obtuse bases and acuminate tips.

Floral buds are soft pink to soft purple and open to nearly white double-flowered blossoms.

Other Common Names: Krasavitsa Moskvy, Belle de Moccou, and Madchen aus Moscau.

Origin: Developed in the 1940s in Russia and registered in 1971.

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 12 ft tall, 6 – 8 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills

6. Ludwig Spaeth Lilac – Syringa x vulgaris ‘Ludwig Spaeth’

Ludwig Spaeth Lilac - Grid 2 Square
Images via Nature Hills and Plant Central – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Ludwig Spaeth is an old French hybrid cultivar with gorgeous, fragrant, deep purple-red flowers that was first introduced commercially back in 1883.

It was a chance seedling of unknown parentage that was named after the German nurseryman Johann Ludwig Carl Späth.

It is a later-blooming cultivar that blooms in late May to late June, depending on the location, helping you extend your lilac season if you plant it alongside earlier-blooming varieties.

It is an easy shrub to grow and makes a great privacy hedge, border, or accent plant.

Best grown in full sun in any average soil with medium moisture.

This popular lilac won the Certificate of Merit in 1966 and the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in 1993.

Identifying Features of the Ludwig Spaeth Lilac

Ludwig Spaeth Lilac is a medium-sized multi-stemmed shrub growing to 10 ft tall and up to 8 ft wide.

Leaves are medium green, mostly cordate to somewhat ovate, with cordate to nearly rounded bases and acuminate tips.

Flowers are unique deep purple-red with tubular corollas and four very rounded and full lobes that set it apart from most other cultivars.

Other Common Names: N/A

Origin: An older cultivar from Germany, presumed registered in 1953.

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 8 – 10 ft tall, 6 – 8 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills

7. Charles Joly Lilac – Syringa vulgaris ‘Charles Joly’

Charles Joly Lilac - Grid 2 Square
Image by Nature Hills – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Charles Joly is another older cultivar, originating sometime in the 1800s and later appearing in the Lemoine catalog of seeds and plants in 1896.

It is a medium-sized shrub with gorgeous double-flowered magenta or plum-colored blossoms with the classic sweet lilac scent.

It blooms in mid to late spring and lasts 3 – 4 weeks.

Highly adaptable, it is best grown in full sun in any soil type with medium moisture.

This shrub received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1993.

This cultivar was named after Victor Charles Joly (1818-1902), a French physician and popular horticultural writer.

Identifying Features of the Charles Joly Lilac

Charles Joly Lilac is a medium-sized shrub growing to 12 ft tall and 10 ft wide with dense branching and a nice rounded habit.

Leaves are lush medium-green, cordate to ovate with cordate, rounded, or somewhat truncate bases.

Flowers are plum or magenta, double-flowered, and are arranged in large panicles.

Other Common Names: N/A

Native Area: An older cultivar from the 1800s, presumed registered in 1953.

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 12 ft tall, 8 – 10 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills

8. Miss Canada – Syringa x prestoniae ‘Miss Canada’

Miss Canada Lilac - Grid 2 Square
Images via Nature Hills – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Miss Canada is a medium-sized shrub that blooms two weeks later than other French Hybrids.

It has violet floral buds that open to ballerina-pink blossoms in profuse, dense panicles on the ends of its branches.

Not only are the pink flowers pretty, but they also smell amazing with the classic lilac scent we all know and love.

In the fall, its textured leaves turn a rich shade of yellow, providing fall color to your landscape.

These kinds of lilacs are great for use in borders and hedges or mixed with other earlier-blooming lilacs to provide a longer bloom season.

Hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators will flock to your yard, invited by the delicious scent and staying for the sweet nectar within.

Low maintenance and highly adaptable, this shrub can be grown in both full sun and partial shade. If you have hot summers, plant it in a location with a little bit of afternoon shade.

Identifying Features of the Miss Canada Lilac

Miss Canada Lilac is a compact, medium-sized shrub growing to a maximum height of 9 ft tall and nearly as wide.

Leaves are ovate to cordate, medium-green, with cordate to rounded bases and acuminate tips. The upper surface has secondary veins that tend to be impressed (indented) into the surface.

In the fall, the leaves turn rich yellow.

Flowers are arranged in dense panicles of violet floral buds that open to a bright but light candy pink. Flowers have tubular corollas with four lobes.

The impressed (indented) veins on the upper surface, compact size, and pink blossoms should help differentiate this lilac from other cultivars.

Other Common Names: N/A

Origin: Cumming, 1967

USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 9 ft tall, 5 – 8 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills

9. Rosie Beach Party Lilac – Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Rosie’

Rosie-Beach-Party-Lilac
Image via Plant Express

Rosie Beach Party Lilac gets its common name for its heat tolerance since it and others in the Beach Party series were all bred to require far fewer chill hours than most lilacs.

Unlike most lilacs, this one will thrive in USDA Zones 4 – 10, whereas most lilacs perform poorly south of USDA Zone 7.

It has bright pink to lavender-pink, delightfully fragrant flowers in a shrub that grows to 12 ft tall.

It makes a great border, privacy screen, accent shrub, etc., attracting countless hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators to your yard.

Identifying Features of the Rosie Beach Party Lilac

Rosie Beach Party Lilac is a medium-sized shrub growing to 12 ft tall and spreading 6 – 8 ft wide.

Leaves are relatively large, medium green, mostly cordate to somewhat ovate, with cordate to rounded bases and acuminate tips.

Flowers are arranged in large, somewhat pendulous panicles.

Flowers have a tubular pink, lavender-pink, or lavender corolla with 4(5) full, rounded lobes.

Other Common Names: N/A

Origin: An unnamed seedling selected by Ralph Moore; part of the Beach Party™ series of low-chill lilacs developed by John Schoustra in California.

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 10

Average Size at Maturity: 10 -12 ft tall, 6 – 8 ft spread

10. Persian Lilac – Syringa x persica

Persian Lilac - Grid 2 Square
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

The Persian Lilac is a compact, densely branched shrub that is more compact and heat tolerant than most lilacs, thriving well into USDA Zone 9.

It is not as cold-tolerant, however, and should not be grown north of USDA Zone 5.

It is a sterile hybrid cross between S. afghanica and S. x laciniata, but it can easily be propagated via softwood cuttings.

Low maintenance and easy to care for, this shrub is best grown in full sun in well-drained, organically rich soil in a location with good air circulation.

While it prefers moist soil, it will not tolerate wet soggy soil.

It is prone to powdery mildew, so be sure it gets good air circulation by pruning if necessary to keep the shrub’s center more open to allow the air to flow through.

Identifying Features of the Persian Lilac

The Persian Lilac is a smaller to medium-sized shrub growing to 8 ft tall and spreading up to 10 ft wide with dense ascending branches that may become pendulous at their tips, producing an overall rounded habit.

Leaves are medium green, lanceolate to narrowly ovate, 1 – 3” long, with usually cuneate to somewhat rounded bases and acuminate tips.

Flowers are arranged in wide panicles with numerous pink to purple flowers with tubular corollas and four lobes that may be more or less rounded to long-acuminate at their tips, depending on the cultivar.

Flower color also varies with the cultivar, from light pink, dark pink, and pale violet to lavender-purple.

The lanceolate leaves will quickly differentiate this from the Common Lilac Syringa vulgaris cultivars.

Other Common Names: N/A

Origin: Unknown, considered a cross of Syringa × laciniata and S. afghanica.

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 4 – 8 ft tall, 5 – 10 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills

11. Sensation Lilac – Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’

Sensation Lilac - Grid 2 Square
Images via Nature Hills – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Sensation Lilac is another cultivar of the common lilac. This one was made popular for its bicolor flowers that come in purple to red-purple with a white border all around the petals.

It not only looks beautiful, but the fragrance is amazing, providing you with copious amounts of classic lilac scent to enjoy when you stop to stare at the beautiful bicolor flowers.

Sometimes it may produce solid purple flowers, but those branches can be pruned off.

Hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators will love this shrub as much as you will.

It makes a great privacy screen or hedges thanks to its lush canopy of rich blue-green leaves.

Best grown in full sun in moist, well-drained soil.

It is said to have originated from a mutation of the ‘Hugo de Vries’ lilac.

Identifying Features of the Sensation Lilac

Sensation Lilac is a medium-sized shrub that grows to 10 ft tall and often spreads slightly wider than it grows tall.

Leaves are rich blue-green, mostly cordate with cordate, subcordate, or nearly truncate bases and acuminate tips.

Flowers are arranged in dense panicles and have tubular corollas with four oval lobes in shades of pink or purple (depending on the cultivar) with a white border all around their edges.

The bicolor flowers will differentiate this cultivar from most other lilacs. However, a few new cultivars also have bicolor flowers.

Other Common Names: N/A

Origin: Eveleens Maarse in 1938, registered in 1953

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 8 – 10 ft tall, 8 – 12 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills

12. Dwarf Korean Lilac – Syringa pubescens ssp pubescens ‘Palibin’

Dwarf Korean Lilac - Grid 2 Square
Images via Nature Hills and Fast-Growing-Trees – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Dwarf Korean Lilac is a compact cultivar that grows to a maximum height of 6 ft and a spread of 8 ft, making it a great choice for a border shrub for smaller landscapes.

Its compact size is also suitable for container growing, where it would look lovely in a pot on your patio.

The pretty, soft pink flowers bloom in mid to late spring with the other lilacs and produce a lovely sweet lilac scent.

It is a popular shrub that won the Award of Garden Merit in 1993 and a gold medal from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in 2000.

Best grown in full sun in any average well-drained soil with medium moisture.

Often called Syringa meyeri, but plant authorities consider that a synonym. However, not everyone agrees, saying S. meyeri has distinctive, nearly palmate venation compared to the pinnate venation of S. pubescens.

Identifying Features of the Dwarf Korean Lilac

Dwarf Korean Lilacs are small, densely branched shrubs with puberulent twigs.

Leaves are medium green, elliptic-ovate, or elliptic-obovate but may also be ovate or nearly rounded, 0.4 – 2” long, 0.3 – 1.4” wide, hairless or sometimes pilose along the veins on the lower surface, more or less palmately 5-veined with cuneate to nearly rounded bases and acute, short-acuminate or sometimes obtuse tips.

Flowers are arranged in erect lateral panicles and have blue-purple, purplish-red, purplish-pink, or white tubular corollas with four oblong spreading lobes.

Capsules are long elliptic, 0.4 – 0.8” long.

Its more or less elliptic leaves with nearly palmate venation (multiple main veins radiating from near the petiole as opposed to one main vein with lateral veins) help distinguish this lilac from most of the others.

Other Common Names: Manchurian Lilac

Native Area: Korea and China

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 4 – 6 ft tall, 5 – 8 ft spread

Available at: Fast Growing Trees & Nature Hills

13. Miss Kim Lilac – Syringa pubescens var patula ‘Miss Kim’

Miss Kim Lilac - Grid 2 Square
Images via Nature Hills and Fast-Growing-Trees – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Miss Kim Lilac is a cultivar that originated in Korea in the 1940s and is related to the Dwarf Korean Lilac.

This lilac also does well in warm temperate climates up to USDA Zone 9.

Flowers are light lavender-purple to ice blue and bloom prolifically each spring, a little after the other lilacs have finished, producing a sweet lilac scent to entice your senses.

It is a tidy, compact shrub that usually grows to about 5 ft tall and wide but can reach heights of 7 ft.

Its dark green leaves provide a nice border or hedge throughout the summer before they turn a lovely wine-red color in the fall, adding fall color to the landscape.

Best grown in full sun in any average well-drained soil with medium moisture.

It has great powdery mildew resistance and is tolerant of urban pollution and road salts.

Identifying Features of the Miss Kim Lilac

Miss Kim Lilac is a compact shrub growing to about five feet tall and wide, sometimes slightly taller, with a dense, rounded habit.

Leaves are nearly rounded with rounded bases and tips in a rich dark green that often turns a shade of wine red to burgundy in the fall.

Floral buds are dark purple, opening to light lavender-purple to ice blue flowers that fade to soft lavender-pink later in the spring.

Flowers have tubular corollas with four oblong, spreading lobes.

Other Common Names: Miss Kin, Katinka, and Manchurian Lilac

Origin: One of seven seedlings raised from seed collected by E. M. Meader in the Pouk Han Mountains, Korea, in 1947

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 5 – 7 ft tall, 5 – 6 ft spread

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

14. Japanese Tree Lilac – Syringa reticulata

Japanese Tree Lilac - Grid 2 Square
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

The Japanese Tree Lilac is the largest lilac growing up to 25 ft tall with loads of small cream-colored flowers in large panicles up to 1 ft long that are packed full of sweet lilac scent.

Its larger size and great urban tolerance make it a fantastic choice as a street tree or for use in parks, driveways, borders, etc.

It is one of the latest-blooming lilacs, blooming in late spring or early summer, allowing you to extend your lilac season when you plant it with early and mid-season varieties.

In the winter, it shows off its textured reddish-brown bark to add color to the winter landscape.

Best grown in full sun in any average well-drained soil with medium moisture.

Like most lilacs, it is not heat tolerant and should be given partial shade in areas with very hot summers.

Identifying Features of the Japanese Tree Lilac

Japanese Tree Lilac is a large shrub or single or multi-trunked small tree that features noticeable lenticels on its bark, which are small pores essential for gas exchange.

Leaves are ovate, ovate-lanceolate, elliptic-ovate, oblong-lanceolate, or nearly rounded, 1 – 5.1” long, 0.4 – 3.2” wide, with a thick but papery texture with hairless surfaces or rarely pubescent on the lower surface. Bases are rounded, truncate, subcordate, or cuneate, and the tips are acuminate or acute.

Flowers are arranged in long panicles up to 1 ft long. Flowers are sessile to short-stalked, small, white, with four spreading lobes and stamens that are exserted beyond the corolla tube.

Fruit is an elliptical capsule 0.5 – 1” long.

The size of the tree as well as its small white flowers with exserted stamens, will differentiate this lilac from all the other species of lilacs.

Other Common Names: N/A

Native Area: Eastern Asia

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 25 ft tall, 15 – 25 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available (left to right):

Japanese Tree Lilac Cultivars - Grid 2 Square
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize
  1. First Editions® Snowdance™ Japanese Tree Lilac Syringa reticulata ‘Bailnce’ is a small tree (to 20 ft tall and wide) with profuse panicles of creamy white blossoms that bloom without fail every June and make great cut flowers and will attract butterflies to your garden. It is cold-hardy and disease free and can be grown as a small single-trunk tree types or a multi-stemmed shrub. – Image via Nature Hills.
  2. Ivory Silk Lilac Tree Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’ is a small tree up to 25 ft tall with huge panicles up to 1 ft long of lilac-scented cream-colored flowers that contrast beautifully with its dark reddish bark. It is a cold hardy tree in USDA Zones 3 – 7. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees.

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

15. Chinese Lilac – Syringa chinensis or S. oblata

Chinese Lilac
Image via Nature Hills

Chinese Lilac is a medium-sized shrub with very fragrant, showy lilac-pink blossoms that bloom profusely in mid-season with the other lilac varieties.

Hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators will flock to your yard, drawn by the sweet fragrance and the gorgeous colors.

They are cold-hardy and are mildly drought-tolerant as well.

They make a great privacy screen, hedge, border, or windbreak for your garden. Or, plant one next to your patio to enjoy the sweet fragrance while relaxing outside.

Best grown in full sun in any soil type. They are more tolerant of drier soils than most lilacs and may even tolerate wetter soils as well.

It is mostly called Syringa chinensis or Syringa x chinensis, but that appears to be a synonym of Syringa oblata.

Identifying Features of the Chinese Lilac

Chinese Lilac is a large shrub growing to a maximum height of about 12 ft tall and spreading nearly as wide.

Leaves are medium to dark green, mostly ovate, and slightly broader than long or slightly longer than broad with a slightly cordate, truncate, or broadly cuneate base and an abruptly acute to long-acuminate tip.

Flowers are arranged in congested to lax panicles of purple, lilac, or occasionally white flowers with tubular corollas and four spreading lobes with rounded tips.

Other Common Names: Early Blooming Lilac, Broadleaf Lilac

Native Area: Widespread throughout China and Korea

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 12 ft tall, 6 – 10 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills

16. Pinnate Leaf Lilac – Syringa pinnatifolia

Pinnate Leaf Lilac - Grid 2 Square
Images via Broken Arrow Nursery – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Pinnate Leaf Lilac is an unusual lilac native to China that is rare in cultivation.

It has unusual compound leaves with small panicles of pink or lilac-flushed white flowers, plus attractive exfoliating bark that provides some winter interest.

The textured compound leaves make it resemble a dwarf ash tree.

Best grown in full sun in any well-drained soil.

It appears to be quite resistant to powdery mildew.

Identifying Features of the Pinnate Leaf Lilac

Pinnate Leaf Lilac is a small to medium-sized shrub with an upright form and 4-angled twigs.

Leaves are odd-pinnately compound on a 0.2 – 0.5” petiole with 7 – 11(13) opposite or sub-opposite sessile leaflets.

Leaflets are ovate-lanceolate or ovate, 0.2 – 1.2” long, 1.5 – 2.3 times longer than wide, with a cuneate to somewhat rounded and usually oblique base and acute, acuminate, or obtuse tip.

Panicles are slightly nodding, 0.8 – 2.6” long, with white or lilac to light red-tinged corollas with funnel-shaped tubes and ovate to oblong lobes. Anthers are yellow and inserted in the corolla tube but are easily visible at the mouth of the tube.

The panicles of white lilac-type flowers combined with the pinnately compound leaves will very quickly distinguish this tree from the other lilacs.

Other Common Names: Pinnate Lilac

Native Area: Temperate north and central China.

USDA Growing Zones: 5 (4 with protection) – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 3 – 13 ft tall, 3 – 8 ft spread

17. California Lilac – Ceanothus gloriosus

California Lilac - Ceanothus_gloriosus
Images by Daderot, Own work, CC0

California Lilac, despite its common name, is not related to true lilacs. They are from the Rhamnaceae family in the Rosales order, more closely related to roses than lilacs.

But they do produce lovely panicles of flowers with tubular corollas and spreading lobes, but in the most amazing blue color that you will never see in a true lilac.

They are also more heat-tolerant than most true lilacs but not cold-hardy, thriving in USDA Zones 7 – 10, where most other lilacs will not grow.

They are nitrogen-fixers that will help enrich poor soils, and they are the most drought-tolerant of all lilacs, even suitable for xeriscaping once established.

Hummingbirds, butterflies, and other local pollinators will flock to your yard for the rich nectar within.

The other bonus is that its glossy green leaves are evergreen, lasting all year round.

Best grown in full sun in any well-drained soil.

Identifying Features of the California Lilac

California Lilac is a matlike or moundlike small shrub growing to 3 ft tall but spreading more than three times as wide with prostrate, spreading, ascending, or erect stems that will sometimes root at nodes that touch the ground.

Leaves are evergreen with flat to folded or cupped blades that are widely elliptic, obovate or nearly rounded, 0.4 – 1.6” long with cuneate to rounded bases and rounded, truncate, or sometimes notched tips and margins that are dentate to denticulate toothed. The upper surfaces are shiny dark green, and the lower surface is pale green and hairless to sparsely hairy.

Flowers are in axillary inflorescences with deep blue to bluish-purple petals and sepals and a tubular corolla.

Other Common Names: Point Reyes Ceanothus, Glorymat Ceanothus

Native Area: Endemic to the San Francisco Bay area, California, USA

USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 10

Average Size at Maturity: 1 – 3 ft tall, 6 – 10 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available (left to right):

California Lilac Cultivars - Grid 2 Square
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize
  1. Ray Hartman California Lilac Ceanothus x ‘Ray Hartman’ is a lovely small tree growing 12 – 20 ft tall and wide and thriving in USDA Zones 8 – 10, giving lilac-like options to those in warmer climates. It will also grow in partial shade, and it is highly drought- tolerant once established. – Image via Nature Hills.
  2. Creeping Mountain Lilac Ceanothus ‘Joyce Coulter’ is a highly adaptable hybrid cultivar shrub that can be grown in full sun or partial shade, well-drained soil, or heavy clays, and it can be pruned or left to grow and spread naturally where it will grow to 5 ft tall and up to 12 ft wide. Hardy in USDA Zones 7 – 10. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees.

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

Lovely Lilacs

Growing Lilac Trees in Your Garden

Climate Requirements for Lilac Trees

Most lilacs are cold-hardy shrubs that thrive in cool temperate climates down to USDA Zone 3 and require cold winters with over 2000 chill hours below 45°F during the winter in order to bloom the following spring.

Most do not do well above USDA Zone 7.

However, there are a few cultivars and certain species will thrive in USDA Zones 7 – 10.

Some cultivars will even thrive in colder climates down to USDA Zone 2.

To ensure it establishes successfully, be sure to read up on your chosen species or cultivar to make sure it will grow in your climate.

If you are unsure which zone you are in, check out the USDA Planting Zones to determine your zone.

Soil, Water, and Light Requirements for Lilac Trees

Most lilacs are not at all picky about soil type as long as it is well-drained.

Providing some organic matter to the soil will help retain moisture and feed the lilac bushes allowing them to produce more flowers.

Most lilacs require full sun to grow well, but a few will do well in partial shade. If you live in an area with very hot summers and still want to grow a lilac, it is advisable to plant it in a location where it will get some afternoon shade.

Most lilacs require moderately moist soil, and very few are drought-tolerant. If you require a drought-tolerant tree, the Chinese Lilac is a true lilac that tolerates drought better than most. However, if you want a truly drought-tolerant species to establish a xeriscape garden, then the California Lilac is your best bet, since none of the true lilacs are suitable for xeriscaping.

If you want more information on choosing the right tree for the right spot, check out How to Pick A Tree For Your Yard before you embark on a tree planting exercise!

Pests and Diseases of Lilac Trees

Lilacs are typically very hardy trees with few problems with pests and diseases.

However, powdery mildew is a common problem among many of the lilacs, in part because they are suited to moist climates where powdery mildew thrives.

If powdery mildew is a problem in your area, you could choose a resistant cultivar or just make sure it is planted in an area with good circulation. Lilac shrubs with dense branching can be pruned to allow for better circulation.

I always encourage people to grow native species wherever possible to enhance biodiversity and wildlife values. However, most of the lilacs grown worldwide are originally native to Europe or Asia. They have been widely grown outside of their native range for hundreds of years already. Fortunately, none seem to be particularly aggressive, so invasiveness is not a concern at this time.

Interesting Facts About Lilac Trees

Lilacs are part of the Oleaceae or Olive family of trees, most closely related to the olives we eat in Mediterranean foods than they are to any of the other popular cut flowers.

Carl Linnaeus named the genus Syringa back in 1753 after the ancient Greek word “syrinx,” which means pipe or tube in reference to the hollow branches (not actually hollow but filled with a soft pith).

Lilacs are a popular traditional gift for graduates since they are seen as a symbol of confidence.

Lilacs are edible and are occasionally added to specialty salads, so if you see it on your plate, it is not just a garnish; try eating it!

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew lilacs in their colonial gardens.

Some of the world’s largest and oldest lilacs are on Mackinac Island in New Hampshire, USA. Even though they are not native there, they were planted there by immigrants over 200 years ago, and some of those original shrubs are still alive today.

Human Uses of Lilac Trees

Lilacs are mostly grown as ornamental shrubs in various landscaping applications for their lush foliage and gorgeous flowers.

Lilac plants are also grown for the cut flower industry, popular in mixed bouquets.

Lilacs are popular for their fragrant aroma and are used in perfumes, cosmetics, and soaps.

Wildlife Values Lilac Trees Provide

Lilac trees provide rich nectar for countless hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other native pollinators that will be attracted to your yard by both the scent and the color of the flowers.

Other birds will feed on the seeds from the capsules they produce after flowering.

Many birds and small animals use the shrubs for shelter and cover.

I hope you have enjoyed learning so much more about the lovely lilac tree. You can go and use your newfound skills to identify the lilacs around you or to help you choose a suitable specimen for your yard. Enjoy!

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Photo of author

Lyrae Willis

Environmental Scientist & Plant Ecologist

Lyrae grew up in the forests of BC, Canada, where she got a BSc. in Environmental Sciences. Her whole life, she has loved studying plants, from the tiniest flowers to the most massive trees. She is currently researching native plants of North America and spends her time traveling, hiking, documenting, and writing. When not researching, she is homeschooling her brilliant autistic son, who travels with her and benefits from a unique hands-on education about the environment around him.

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