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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):


Family (Botanic):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks,
  • City parkway,
  • Wide median,
  • Restricted sites

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

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


  • Dry sites,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Road salt

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

Seasons of Interest:

  • late spring,
  • early summer

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Fragrant,
  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Oval,
  • Pyramidal,
  • Round

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

Transplants Well:

  • Yes


  • 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), fruit
photo: 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.

Location of Syringa reticulata subsp. reticulata (Japanese tree lilac) at the Arboretum