Lottah Nursery Tasmania, Australia
Gardeners are familiar with the 'French Lilac', Syringa vulgaris, esteemed for its fragrant brightly colored flowers in Spring. Vulgaris is admittedly the 'Queen' of the lilacs, but it is only one of the two dozen or so species comprising the genus.
To extend the season as well as to cater for special situations there are a number of other highly desirable species and hybrids that deserve to be better known. Some have been in this country for many years but have failed to capture the hearts of nurserymen who appear to have fixated on vulgaris. Others have been introduced very recently; we will try to provide general descriptions of some these types here.
Nomenclature used here mainly follows Pringle 1997, and differs from that listed in Fiala which was based on Pringle, 1983(?).
S. vulgaris - best
known and most fragrant of the genus, generally flowers in
mid-season but individual cultivars may flower earlier or later than
It comes in both single and double as well as multipetalled forms in the full range of colors - white (I), violet (II), blue (III), lilac (IV), pink (V), magenta (VI) and purple (VII) as well as combinations of these.
The older cultivars usually flower on the two terminal buds but recently bred cultivars often flower on the lower 2 - 3 pairs of buds as well, giving a much larger flowering head.
Grown on its own roots it is usually a largish suckering shrub 3 x 3m when mature but some of the newly bred cultivars are semi-dwarfs growing to 1.5 m or less.
S. x hyacinthiflora is a hybrid of S. vulgaris and S. oblata, and for practical purposes is indistinguishable from S. vulgaris except that it usually flowers about 2 weeks earlier. It is reported to require less winter chilling and so would be suited to the marginally warmer growing areas.
S. x prestoniae - cross of S. villosa and S. komarowii ssp. reflexa, was first hybridized by Isabella Preston in Canada to withstand extreme cold. It is usually a vigorous large non-suckering shrub that flowers two weeks after S. vulgaris. Fragrance is not pronounced, reported to be 'spicy'. Flower form is tubular single and comes in rather limited range of colors mainly pinks and lavenders, with the rare bluish and white. It is best grown as a tree form with multiple stems.
The tree lilacs, comprising of S. reticulata and S. pekinensis, growing to 6 m or more. Seldom seen in cultivation, these are the last to flower, sporting creamy white flowers in December, and have attractive peeling bark in addition. Will probably continue to be rarely seen unless a breakthrough is made in propagation techniques.
Small leafed species - a mixed bag comprising S. pubescens ssp. microphylla, ssp. patula and ssp. julianae, S. protolaciniata, S meyeri and their interspecific hybrids including S. x chinensis. Size ranges from 2 m for S. pubescens down to 1.5 m for S. protolaciniata. Florets are rather small but they are usually fragrant and borne in great profusion.
Repeat flowering cultivars - a number of hybrids have been raised with S. pubescens ssp. microphylla as one parent to produce repeat flowering cultivars with other desirable traits. These include 'Lotta' (syn. 'Josee'™), bred in 1974 but only becoming known in gardening circles in North America in recent times. There are several other very new introductions we are evaluating at the Nursery and hope to release over the coming years.
With a judicious mix of cultivars it would be possible to have lilacs flowering continuously for 12 weeks - from late September (S. pinnatifolia) to late December (S. pekinensis, S. tomentella and S. x 'Albida') at Lottah, and to have the repeat flowering cultivars continue the show from late January to end of Autumn.
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