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Japanese tree lilac

Syringa-tree-BFJapanese tree lilac, Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’

Scientific Name

Syringa is from the Greek syrinx, which means “pipe” and refers to the hollow stems; reticulata means “netted” or “net-veined” and refers to the leaf venation.

Common Name

Japanese tree lilac is named for Japan and the tree-like form.


Japanese tree lilac is native to northern Japan. Plants are found growing on cliffs and in scrub, usually on limestone. The Olive or Oleaceae family also contains privet and forsythia. Syringa has about 30 species of trees and shrubs native to Europe and Asia. Japanese tree lilac is the only species that attains a tree-like form and size.


Not native to Kentucky

syringa - flowerDESCRIPTION

Growth Habit and Form

The habit is graceful, with spreading branches that form an oval to rounded crown. Plants can be grown as large shrubs or small trees. Japanese tree lilac grows 20 to 30 feet tall with a spread of 15 to 25 feet.


Leaves are simple, opposite, entire, ovate, and 3 to 6 inches long, half as wide, with long, tapered tip. The medium to dark green leaves are slightly fuzzy beneath. The deciduous leaves turn pale greenish-brown in autumn before dropping.


Flowers are creamy-white and borne in long panicles up to 12 inches long at the ends of the branches. The somewhat fragrant flower clusters bloom in early summer and remain attractive for 1 to 2 weeks. Pollination is by insects, including hawk moths.


The fruit is a brown, warty, dry capsule that is ¾ inch-long. Capsules contain 2 winged seeds. The capsules appear in large clusters that remain on the plant through winter. The fruit is a cluster of capsules containing seeds that are scattered by wind.


Bark and stems are glossy reddish-brown, with numerous lenticels. Bark resembles cherry bark; older trees develop scaly, grayish plates.

Wild and Cultivated Varieties

‘Ivory Silk’ was selected in 1973 by Sheridan Nursery in Ontario, Canada. It is a little smaller than the species with a height of up to 20 feet. Trees bloom at a young age and are compact with a dense, rounded form. It is a prolific bloomer that makes an excellent street tree or specimen.


Landscape Use

Japanese tree lilac adapts well to difficult or urban sites. Trees are excellent for use as specimens, in group planting as a screen, and as street trees.

Hardiness Zone

Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 7.

Growth Rate

Moderate growth rate.

Cultivation and Propagation Information

Growth is best on moist, well-drained, fertile soils and full sun. Japanese tree lilac is adaptable to a variety of soils in full sun sites. Trees are easily transplanted and adaptable to poor, compacted or dry soils. Japanese tree lilac tolerates some drought and prefers cool summers. Propagation is by seed or softwood cuttings.

Diseases and Insects

Few; susceptible to scale and borers but is the most trouble-free lilac.

Wildlife Considerations

Japanese lilac trees provide homes and shelter for wildlife.

Maintenance Practices

Japanese tree lilac is the most trouble-free lilac.


Japanese tree lilac was introduced into cultivation in 1876.