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Lilac Leaf

Lilacs are popular in American gardens due to their highly aromatic and beautiful flowers, but are not native to the area. The flowering shrubs and small trees were brought to the continent by European settlers and were featured in the gardens of some of the founding fathers of the United States, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Lilac Leaf

Lilacs are also native to temperate Asia, and many of the most familiar types are originally from that region. Around thirty different plant species are classified as belonging to the lilac genus Syringa, but hundreds of varieties of the plant are recognized.

Lilac flowers grow in panicles, typically in single-flower cultivars, but also in a double-flower form often referred to as the French lilac. The flowers have been cultivated in a wide array of colors, but are traditionally associated with the pale purple hue, lilac, that gained its name from the plant. Some of the unusual varieties of lilacs that have been developed do not exhibit the same sweet-smelling fragrance as the common lilac (S. vulgaris), which has a scent that wafts long distances through the air for a few short weeks each spring. Though the splendor of their blossoms is fleeting, lilacs, with their deep green leaves, are often considered attractive plants even when they are not in bloom. Moreover, their wide range in size makes them well suited for many different gardening needs.

Several different cities pride themselves on the tremendous array of lilacs that are grown there. In Rochester, New York, for instance, more than 500 varieties of the plant are grown in Highland Park alone. The first lilacs were planted in the park in 1892, and as early as 1898 thousands of people began gathering at the site together to view the plants in their full spring bloom. The informal congregations eventually evolved into the annual two-week-long lilac festivals that are held at Highland Park today.

Contributing Authors

Nathan S. Claxton, Shannon H. Neaves, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.