fbpx Common lilac | The Morton Arboretum

Common lilac

Fragrant purple flowers of common lilac

The common lilac is an old-fashioned, long-lived, and well-loved lilac best known for its fragrant flowers. It is extremely hardy and thrives with little care which make it a lovely shrub for a specimen planting, in masses, screens, hedges, or mixed in shrub borders.  The May blooming flowers are typically purple to lilac but cultivars also come in magenta, pink and white. 

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


Botanical name:

Syringa vulgaris

All common names:

Common lilac, lilac, English lilac, French lilac

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

Landscape Uses:

  • Hedge,
  • Massing,
  • Mixed border,
  • Screen,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet),
  • Medium shrub (5-8 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:

  • Acid soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Occasional drought,
  • Alkaline soil

Seasons of Interest:

  • mid spring,
  • late spring,
  • early fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Fragrant,
  • Pink,
  • Purple,
  • White,
  • Other

Shape or Form:

  • Multi-stemmed,
  • Oval,
  • Upright

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

More Information:

Size & Form

Typically 8 to12 feet high and 6 to 10 feet wide.
Upright to irregular, multi-stemmed shrub.
Sizes vary with cultivar.

Tree & Plant Care

Best in full sun. Avoid shady sites. Needs good air circulation.
Prefers moist, organic rich, well-drained soils.
Intolerant of wet sites.
Flowers on old wood, prune after flowering.
Shallow rooted, a layer of mulch will moderate soil temperature fluctuations.

Disease, pests, and problems

The lilac is susceptible to many pest and disease problems.
Lilac borer, powdery mildew, verticillium wilt

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of salt, heavy clay soil, and deer 

Native geographic location and habitat

 It is native to open woodlands, rocky hills and scrubby areas in southeastern Europe, but has been widely cultivated throughout Europe and North America

Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife

Flowers attract birds and butterflies

Bark color and texture

Young stems are lustrous brownish-gray with small raised lenticels. Older stems are gray.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Opposite, pointed-ovate to heart-shaped leaves, 2 to 5 inches long,
Leaves are dark gray-green to blue green changing to a yellow fall color.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Very fragrant, tubular, 4-lobed, lilac to purple flowers in large conical to narrow-pyramidal panicles,  6 to 8 inches long .
Many hybrids and cultivars have double flowers, and come in a wide variety of colors.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Clusters of smooth, brown, flattened, dehiscent seed capsules (each to 3/ 4” long) which persist into winter.

Cultivars and their differences 

There are literally hundreds of common lilac cultivars in the nursery trade.

Albert F. Holden lilac (Syringa vulgaris 'Albert F. Holden): 8 to 10 feet high by 6 to 8 feet wide; upright habit; deep violet-purple flowers with silver underside.

Miss Ellen Willmot lilac (Syringa vulgaris 'Miss Ellen Willmott'): 10 to 12 feet high; rounded habit; double white flowers.

Ludwig Spaeth lilac (Syringa vulgaris 'Ludwig Spaeth'): 10 to 12 feet high; upright habit; reddish-purple flowers.

Monge lilac (Syringa vulgaris 'Monge'): 8 to 10 feet high; upright habit; dark reddish-purple flowers; long blooming.

President Grevy lilac (Syringa vulgaris 'President Grevy'): 10 to 12 feet high; upright habit; double lilac-blue flowers.

Sensation lilac (Syringa vulgaris 'Sensation'): 8 to 10 feet high; upright habit; purple flowers with white margins.

Location of Syringa vulgaris (Common lilac) at the Arboretum