The lilac tree (Syringa vulgaris) is a deciduous plant native to Asia and Europe. "Lilac" probably derives from the Persian (Iranian) word "lilag," which means flower. The Syringa genus includes about 25 different species, all of which belong to the Oleaceae or olive family. This exquisite tree may give the impression that it requires cosseting. Quite the contrary, as less pruning usually yields bigger and better lilac blooms.
There are over 1,000 varieties of lilacs. The lilac tree is famous for its flowers, which are usually light purple in color as its name suggests, but which also bloom in pink, yellow, white and burgundy, depending on the variety and the location. The flowers form in large panticles making a spectacular, clustered presentation. They are often fragrant, blooming between spring and early summer.
Lilac bushes or small trees take time to establish roots, so expect flowers only after they acclimatize fully. They enjoy the full sun, so plant them accordingly. They do not care to be in the shadows, nor do they respond well to lots of fertilizer, which encourages the growth of leaves, but not of flowers.
New Hampshire State Flower
Syringa vulgaris is the state flower of New Hampshire. The purple lilac arrived in New Hampshire from England in the 18th century and became the state flower officially in 1919. Other contenders included the apple blossom, purple aster, wood lily, mayflower, goldenrod, wild pasture rose, evening primrose and buttercup. According to New Hampshire historian Leon Anderson, the lilac won out because it "is symbolic of that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State."
The celebrated poet Walt Whitman (1819 to 1892) greatly admired Abraham Lincoln. He wrote a poignant poem, "When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd" in tribute to the assassinated president, and to record the horrors of war, which he experienced firsthand. Against the tragedy of President Lincoln's death, and the deaths of so many during the Civil War, Whitman describes the enduring presence of the lilac, part of the cycle of nature and of life. There was no need to mention President Lincoln by name, for his audience at the time understood the symbolism.
So They Say
Lilacs have several associations that are quintessential old wives' tales. Legend has it that the lilac was an unlucky flower because its purple color was a color of mourning. Sending a spray of lilacs to a fiancé was one way of requesting the end of the engagement. To wear lilacs would mean never wearing a wedding ring.