Common Name: common lilac

Scientific Name: 
Family: Oleaceae
Genus: Syringa
Species: vulgaris

Hardiness Zone: 3 to 7
Height: 8 to 15 ft
Width: 6 to 12 ft

Common Characteristics:​ ​​​

The common lilac is one of the most planted and commonly seen flowering shrubs in the Midwest. Younger stems are brownish-gray with raised lenticels, older stems are gray. Leaves are dark green and pointed-ovate to heart-shaped in an opposite arrangement with smooth margins. The well-known and very fragrant purple flowers bloom in May. The flowers are tubular with 4 lobes and grow in large conical to narrow-pyramidal panicles that are 6 to 8 inches long. 

Where it Grows:

Common lilac does best in full sun so avoid shady sites. The plant needs good air circulation and prefers moist, organic-rich, well-drained soils. It is intolerant of wet sites. It flowers on old wood, so prune after flowering. This shrub is shallow-rooted so a layer of mulch will moderate soil temperature fluctuations.

How it's Used:

Common lilac is a reliable spring-flowering shrub for cold winter landscapes. This shrub is widely used in urban landscapes due to its fragrant flowers. It is also used for shrub borders, hedges or screens, cottage gardens, and margins of woodland gardens. It is a great cut flower for bouquets. 

Ecosystem Services:

The flowers attract birds, butterflies, and other insect pollinators.

Where it is Native To:

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

Known Varieties and Their Traits:

  • Albert F. Holden lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Albert F. Holden): An 8 to 10 feet high by 6 to 8 feet wide cultivar with an upright habit and deep violet-purple flowers with a silver underside.

  • Miss Ellen Willmot lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Miss Ellen Willmott’):  A 10 to 12 feet high cultivar with a rounded habit and double white flowers.

  • Ludwig Spaeth lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Ludwig Spaeth’): A 10 to 12 feet high cultivar with an upright habit and reddish-purple flowers.

  • Monge lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Monge’): A long-blooming cultivar with an upright habit. It is 8 to 10 feet high with dark reddish-purple flowers.

  • President Grevy lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘President Grevy’): A 10 to 12 feet high cultivar with an upright habit and double lilac-blue flowers.

  • Sensation lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’): An 8 to 10 feet high cultivar with an upright habit and purple flowers with white margins.


Powdery mildew frequently attacks in summer. It can affect the appearance of the foliage by having unsightly whitish-gray patches begin to develop on the leaves but generally does little permanent damage to the shrub.


Morton Arboretum

The Missouri Botanical Garden