Japanese tree lilacBotanical name: Syringa...

PLANT NOTEBOOK

August 10, 1991|By Amalie Adler Ascher

Japanese tree lilac

Botanical name: Syringa reticulata

Pronunciation: si-RING-ga

Family: Oleaceae (Olive)

Origin: Japan

Class: Tree

Display period: mid-June

Height: 20 to 30 feet

Environment: Sun

My discovery that lilacs are found as trees occurred, ironically, in my own yard. Without my realizing it, an old specimen, hidden among other plants, was growing there. Then one day as I was looking idly out of an upstairs window, my eyes lighted on the flowers in the upper reaches of the branches. "Whattya know?" I exclaimed to myself, "That lilac is a tree!"

The first planting of a Japanese tree lilac in the United States took place in 1876 at Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum. Classified originally as Syringa amurensis japonica and the sole tree-form of the genus S. reticulata -- as it's now known -- it bears blossoms that closely resemble those of the shrub's. The color, however, comes only in white, and the shade is creamy rather than pure white as is customary.

The odor, too, is not so delicious; in some quarters it's even spoken of with disparagement. And whereas the tree lilac's trunk is treelike in its thickness, its multistemmed formation brings to mind the branching of a shrub.

In the landscape it should be placed as a feature or grouped with others of its kind. The Japanese tree lilac has a visual appeal similar to the sorrel tree, sweet-bay magnolia or Kousa dogwood. It also serves nicely in a streetside planting.

The hardiest and most trouble-free of the species, the Japanese tree lilac takes its name from "syrinx," the Greek word for pipe, in consideration of the plant's hollow stems, thought to have been used as pipes by Greek shepherds.

Like their shrub relatives, Japanese tree lilacs may develop powdery mildew, but their greater resistance to the disease makes it less of a threat.

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