Lilacs are deciduous flowering shrubs and trees native to Asia and Europe with at least 500 varieties. Most lilacs have heart-shaped leaves and large, fragrant flower clusters. They grow from 6 to 30 feet, depending on the variety. Lilacs flower in the spring, with flowers ranging in color from the most common light purple to bluish purple to dark purple, light and dark pink, white and yellow. Lilacs are fragrant flowering landscape plants that thrive with a little attention to location and growing conditions.
Common lilac, syringa vulgaris, has large bushy purple flowers with a thick perfume. There are many cultivars of common lilac, including variegated and white flowered varieties. Common lilac flowers in spring in the month of May. It is a shrub that grows up to 10 feet tall within a few years in optimal locations. Full sunlight and well-drained soil are the best growing conditions for common lilac. Common lilac is a shrub that is well-suited in the landscape as a foundation and screening shrub or as a hedge plant.
Chinese lilac, syringa vs chinensis, is a hybrid of the common lilac and the cutleaf lilac, developed in the 1700s in France. It is a shrub with a rounded growth habit that grows to 12 feet around. Its flowers are lavender colored and highly fragrant, with a bicolor variety that has light lavender flowers with deep purple centers. Most of the Chinese lilac varieties were developed in the 1800s and early 1900s.
Hyacinth lilac, syringa vs hyacinthiflora, is a hybrid lilac whose foliage turns an attractive burgundy in the fall and with deep purple or pink flowers. The hybrid was developed by Victor Lemoine in 1876 with double flowers. Other hyacinth lilac hybrid varieties with single flower varieties were created later. Hyacinth lilac varieties grow up to 20 feet tall. They are early-blooming lilacs better suited to warmer climates than those with cold winters.
Tree lilacs are named for their tree-shaped growth and height, up to 30 feet. They are native to Japan and China. They grow rounded or upright canopies on a single trunk. Tree lilacs have oval leaves rather than the heart-shaped leaves that most of the shrub varieties have, and attractive shiny maroon or purple bark. Tree lilacs are used in the landscape as display ornamentals because of their size, rather than screens or hedges.