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Syringa reticulata

Previously known as:

  • Syringa reticulata subsp. reticulata
Phonetic Spelling
si-RING-ga re-tik-u-LA-ta
Description

Japanese tree lilac is a small flowering deciduous tree or large shrub in the Oleaceae or olive family that has an oval to rounded habit. They grow to a height of 25 to 30 feet tall and may be single or multi-stemmed. The bark is reddish brown, but the most distinctive feature is its horizontal lenticels. The leaves are dark green and have a drooping habit. The flowers bloom in June and are creamy-colored panicles that are scented and last only 2 weeks. The blooms are followed by clusters of green and then yellow capsules that can persist through winter. 

The tree is native to Japan and is found growing on cliffs.  The genus name, Syringa, is Greek and originates from the word "syrinx" which means "pipe." The word pipe references the hollow stems of the tree. The epithet, reticulata, means "netted veins" and refers to the plant's leaves.

Plant in full sun in organically rich well-drained acidic soils.  It will tolerate heavy clay soils and urban conditions along with browsing by deer. This tree will tolerate partial shade; however, full sun is required for prolific flower production. Good air circulation is also recommended.

Its showy fragrant blooms attract hummingbirds, insect pollinators, and butterflies. The tree also provides shelter and habitat for wildlife.

The Japanese Lilac Tree would be a nice addition to the patio area to provide flowers in the late spring to early summer and shade for the summer. It is the most trouble-free lilac. It may also be considered as a street tree, large hedge, or an accent or specimen for a shrub border.

Seasons of Interest:

Bark:  Winter        Bloom:  Late Spring to Early Summer      Foliage:  Summer     Fruit:  Summer to Winter

Quick ID Hints:

  • the bark has prominent horizontal lenticels
  • exfoliating, reddish-brown bark when young, and the bark becomes scaly and gray with age 
  • the leaves are dark green, simple, broad-ovate to ovate with sharp tips and a drooping habit
  • the flowers are creamy-colored panicles measuring 6 to 12 inches long and bloom in June for 2 weeks
  • the fruits are clusters of warty, dry, and green to yellow capsules that appear after the flowers and persist through the winter
  • the buds have 4 pairs of scales and are brown and sessile

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: The Japanese Lilac Tree has no serious insect or disease problems.  It tends to be resistant to powdery mildew, bacterial blight, scale insects, and borers.

VIDEO created by Grant L. Thompson for “Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines for Landscaping” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Cameo Jewel'
    yellow cream splashed variegated foliage
  • 'Chantilly Lace'
    creamy-yellow variegated leaves
  • 'Ivory Silk'
    upright, oval habit, and compact
  • 'Summer Snow'
    rounded habit, compact with large flower clusters
'Cameo Jewel', 'Chantilly Lace', 'Ivory Silk', 'Summer Snow'
Tags:
#cultivars#hummingbirds#showy flowers#small tree#fragrant flowers#drought tolerant#interesting bark#specimen#white flowers#wildlife plant#nectar plant#salt tolerant#flowering tree#deck planting#summer flowers#deer resistant#foundation planting#border planting#screening#flowers early summer#exfoliating bark#small group plantings#clay soils tolerant#patio tree#butterfly friendly#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Cameo Jewel'
    yellow cream splashed variegated foliage
  • 'Chantilly Lace'
    creamy-yellow variegated leaves
  • 'Ivory Silk'
    upright, oval habit, and compact
  • 'Summer Snow'
    rounded habit, compact with large flower clusters
'Cameo Jewel', 'Chantilly Lace', 'Ivory Silk', 'Summer Snow'
Tags:
#cultivars#hummingbirds#showy flowers#small tree#fragrant flowers#drought tolerant#interesting bark#specimen#white flowers#wildlife plant#nectar plant#salt tolerant#flowering tree#deck planting#summer flowers#deer resistant#foundation planting#border planting#screening#flowers early summer#exfoliating bark#small group plantings#clay soils tolerant#patio tree#butterfly friendly#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Syringa
    Species:
    reticulata
    Family:
    Oleaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Wildlife Value:
    Flowers attract hummingbirds, insect pollinators, and butterflies.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Attracts Pollinators
    Fragrance
    Shade
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Powdery mildew, borers, scale
    Dimensions:
    Height: 25 ft. 0 in. - 30 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 15 ft. 0 in. - 20 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Dense
    Erect
    Multi-stemmed
    Oval
    Rounded
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    12-24 feet
    24-60 feet
    NC Region:
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3a, 3b, 4b, 4a, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7b, 7a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Long-lasting
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Winter
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The flower blooms are followed by clusters of warty, dry, oblong, or ovoid capsules. They measure about 0.75 inches long and are initially green and then turn yellow. The capsules can persist through the winter.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Cream/Tan
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Panicle
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Good Cut
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Summer
    Flower Description:
    Creamy white fragrant flowers appear on upright panicles that measure 6 to 12 inches long. They bloom in June for about 2 weeks. The flowers have a musky scent.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Insignificant
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Opposite
    Leaf Shape:
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are dark green, simple, pubescent or smooth, and broad-ovate to ovate with sharp tips. The undersides of the leaf are grayish green. They measure 2 to 5.5 inches long and 1 to 3 inches wide and have an arching or drooping habit. The petiole is 1/2 to 1-inch in length. The leaves have no significant fall color.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Brown
    Dark Gray
    Red/Burgundy
    Surface/Attachment:
    Exfoliating
    Lenticels
    Scaly
    Smooth
    Bark Description:
    The bark is smooth, reddish brown, and exfoliating with horizontal lenticels. As the tree ages, the bark becomes gray and scaly.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Bud Scales:
    Enclosed in more than 2 scales
    Pith (Split Longitudinally):
    Spongy
    Stem Description:
    The stems are stout, hollowed-out, and shiny brown.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Lawn
    Patio
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Cottage Garden
    Cutting Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Flowering Tree
    Foundation Planting
    Hedge
    Small groups
    Small Tree
    Specimen
    Street Tree
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Hummingbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer