What is a Lilac Bush?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

A lilac bush (Syringa spp.) is a flowering woody plant native to southeastern Europe and eastern Asia, commonly cultivated as a garden plant. There are about 20 or 25 different species of lilac bush. Several hybrids and cultivars have been developed as well, including the popular French lilac, which features double flowers, or flowers with extra petals.

A vase of lilacs.
A vase of lilacs.

Lilac flowers bloom in the spring and are typically sweet smelling. They grow in large clusters, or panicles, and may be pale to medium purple, pink, white, yellow, or even dark red. A particular shade of light purple is named lilac after the lilac bush. The wood of the lilac bush is very hard and one of the densest European woods. It was traditionally used to make knife handles, musical instruments including reed pipes and flutes, and other crafts, as well as for engraving.

Lilac flowers bloom in the spring, are sweet smelling and may attract butterflies.
Lilac flowers bloom in the spring, are sweet smelling and may attract butterflies.

Pruning or cutting back the plant prevents flower growth since lilac flowers bloom on old wood. After pruning, a lilac bush may not flower at all for five years or more, while a plant that is not pruned reliably flowers each year. If the plant is pruned, it should be done just after the end of the flowering season. Lilac bushes prefer alkaline soil and require good air circulation, without which they are prone to develop powdery mildew.

Purple lilacs symbolized first love in the Victorian language of flowers, while white lilacs symbolized youthful innocence. The lilac bush is also called paschalia in Cyprus, Greece, and Lebanon, because it blooms around Easter and is associated with the holiday. Syringa vulgaris, or the common lilac, is the state flower of New Hampshire.

S. vulgaris and S. x persica, or the Persian lilac, were both introduced to western European gardens from the gardens of the Ottoman Empire in the late 16th century. S. x persica features smaller flowers than the common lilac, and is believed to be a natural hybrid. Lilacs were introduced to the present day United States in the 18th century.

Annual lilac festivals are held in many US cities, with the longest running in Rochester, New York. The Rochester Lilac Festival has been held since 1898 in Highland Park, which today boasts over 500 varieties varieties of lilac bush. The festival features live entertainment, including a parade. Annual lilac celebrations are also held in Lombard, Illinois; Spokane, Washington; Mackinac Island in Michigan; and the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. Lilac Sunday, celebrated at the Arnold Arboretum each May, is the only day of the year on which picnics are allowed inside the arboretum.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


When I think of lilacs, I always think of the beautiful, fragrant flowers. I found it so interesting that their wood is used to make reed pipes, flutes and crafts! Just another reason to love such a beautiful bush! Treat yourself and go out and buy a lilac bush. You will enjoy it for many years to come.


@Lisa Lou - The old fashioned lilacs are also one of my favorites, but I have recently planted a couple of reblooming lilac bushes. They are small enough that they have not produced much yet, but I can't wait to have lilacs all season long.

My cousin had planned an outside wedding when the lilacs were in bloom. It ended up being a cold rainy day, so she had a backup plan to have the ceremony inside. It would have been so beautiful to have the pictures taken by all of those lilac bushes!


Lilacs have to be one of my favorite spring flowers. We had a white and purple lilac bush when I was a kid, and I have always loved their color and fragrance.

I have planted some lilac bushes, but they don't produce many flowers yet. I have a neighbor who has a hedge of lilacs and lets me cut some of the flowers. I love making a big bouquet of lilacs to have in the house. You get a whiff of that sweet fragrance every time you walk by. I just wish they would last longer!

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