The Syringa or Japanese lilac tree (Syringa reticulate) is an ornamental tree with a broad, spreading canopy that yields spectacular displays of white blossoms and clusters of golden, dry fruit until the middle of fall. It is the namesake for “The Syringa Tree,” a popular, long-running play with a single actress recalling memories of living through four generations under apartheid.
Origins and Description
The Syringa tree is native to Japan, the Manchurian peninsula and eastern Siberia. It grows from 20 to 30 feet high and 15 to 20 feet wide, upright with either an oval or round crown.
Flowers and Fruits
The Syringa yields attractive, creamy white to light-yellow flowers in early June. They have a pyramid shape and are 10 to 12 inches long. Some people like their fragrance; others think they small awful. The Syringa produces inedible fruits on stalks; the lime-green immature fruits turn light brown by fall. They can be seen against the dark green foliage of the Syringa but are not an ornamental feature. In the winter they turn brown and release seeds.
Branches and Trunk
Young branches are a smooth, shiny gray streaked with horizontal cracks called lenticels that function as pores giving nitrogen and oxygen direct access to tissue of the tree. The stems fork as they grow. At the end of the growing season each stem is tipped by twin buds. Young stems are light brown and stout in the winter. A Syringa tree might have one trunk or several trunks. The trunk or trunks are gray, cherry-like in appearance, smooth with horizontal lenticels when they are young. The bark of mature trees has fissures and plates. The shrub form of the Syringa has multiple trunks that branch widely at the base.
Syringa trees can be grown from seeds or propagated by grafting cultivators onto rootstock or planting rooted stem cuttings. Syringas grow in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 7. They can grow in many kinds of soil including clay. They are often grown in urban areas with compacted soil, poor drainage and air pollution.
Diseases and Pests
Syringas are ordinarily disease free. If they are stressed during dry weather they may be susceptible to larvae of the lilac borer.The lilac miner might tunnel into the leaves in early summer. During wet weather they might also be affected by bacterial blight, powdery mildew and phytophthora fungal blight.
Syringas can be grown as shrubs in containers or in above-ground planters. They can be pruned to stay 3 to 4 feet wide to flank lawns, decks and patios. Syringas are frequently found along the sides of streets, parks and parking lots. They can function as deciduous screens when they are planted in groups, borders and rows.