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TREES & plants

Japanese tree lilac

Japanese tree lilac in full flower.

Japanese tree lilac is larger than the shrub lilacs and it blooms a little later. It produces large clusters of small creamy-white, fragrant flowers.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name: 
Syringa reticulata subsp. reticulata
All Common Names: 
Japanese tree lilac
Family (English): 
Olive
Family (Botanic): 
Oleaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Non-native
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks, 
  • City parkway, 
  • Wide median, 
  • Restricted sites
Landscape Uses: 
  • Parkway/street, 
  • Patio/sidewalk, 
  • Shade tree, 
  • Specimen
Size Range: 
  • Medium tree (25-40 feet), 
  • Small tree (15-25 feet)
Mature Height: 
20-30 feet
Mature Width: 
15-25 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3, 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Tolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Intolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Intolerant
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Spring blossoms, 
  • Fragrant flowers, 
  • Showy fruit, 
  • Showy flowers, 
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Late spring, 
  • Early summer
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Fragrant, 
  • White
Shape or Form: 
  • Oval, 
  • Pyramidal, 
  • Round
Growth Rate: 
  • Moderate
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
Wildlife: 
  • Butterflies, 
  • Hummingbirds, 
  • Insect pollinators
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

Prune after flowering.

Disease, pests, and problems

Bacterial blight, leaf spots are possible.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Good resistance to powdery mildew, scale and borers.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to Japan.

Bark color and texture 

Reddish-brown, cherry-like bark with elongates lenticels.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple leaves in pairs (opposite) on stems; ovate with a rounded base, dark green.  Leaves fall in autumn with little color change (yellow green).

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Small, creamy white, fragrant flowers held in large clusters (6 to 12 inches high).  Flowers slightly later than the shrub lilacs.

Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata)Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata), fruitphoto: John Hagstrom

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Dry capsules, usually in large enough quantity that they add some interest to the late summer landscape.

Cultivars and their differences 

Golden Eclipse Japanese tree lilac  (Syringa reticulata ssp. reticulata 'Golden Eclipse'):  A more compact form (to 24 feet high).  Leaves develop gold edges as the season progresses.

Ivory Pillar Japanese tree lilac  (Syringa reticulata ssp. reticulata 'Willamette'): A more narrow, upright form (25 feet high by 15 feet wide).

Ivory Silk Japanese tree lilac  (Syringa reticulata ssp. reticulata 'Ivory Silk'):  More compact (20 to 25 feet high); flowers profusely and begins to flower at an early age.

Signature Japanese tree lilac  (Syringa reticulata ssp. reticulata 'Sigzam'):  Flower clusters more rounded and smaller than those of 'Ivory Silk'.  Flowers a week or two later than 'Ivory Silk'.

Snowdance Japanese tree lilac  (Syringa reticulata ssp. reticulata 'Bailnce'):  Flowers at an early age and flowers very prolifically.  20 feet high and wide.

Syringa reticulata subsp. reticulata or Japanese tree lilac