2019 July 14

Lilacs are very popular in Michigan, to the point where I personally think they would have been a better choice for the state flower than the one we actually have[1]. They thrive in our moist, cold climate, have very few insect pests or diseases, and will grow with minimal care without becoming full-up invasive plants. They bloom here for most of the month of June, so I went out photographing them on June 14, 2019. We have several of our own bushes, some with the standard light purple blossoms, some with white blossoms, and some with deeper purple blossoms:


The flowers grow in pyramidal spikes, and smell very nice.




The individual blossoms are fairly simple, and the pollen-producing structures are covered so that pollinating insects have to push them aside to reach the nectar.


When the plants do not have blossoms, the leaves are fairly distinctive, almost heart-shaped, with smooth edges and a sharp tip.


Common lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are originally from the Balkans, and were cultivated in Persia and the Ottoman Empire before they were taken to Europe and North America. They are in the same family as olives, but their seeds are tiny things that get dispersed by being shot out of their capsules, and are not edible. The strong, distinctive odor of the flowers is from (E)-beta-ocimene, lilac aldehyde, and lilac alcohol.

While they are not exactly invasive, they are persistent. One way to identify sites in the woods where houses used to be located, is to look for the lilac bushes. They are easily propagated from shoots that sucker off of the roots, and so pretty much everyone had some.

After taking pictures of our bushes, I strolled off down our road to get pictures both of the ones our various neighbors have, and of the ones that have gone a bit feral and are growing in untended areas along the road.











[1] The Michigan State Flower is the apple blossom. Which I think is ridiculous. While apples do grow well in Michigan, the state is not unusually well-known for them, and in any case people care about the fruit, not the blossoms. Granted an orchard of apple trees in full bloom is pretty, the blossoms only last for about a week. In contrast, lilacs are actually known specifically for their blossoms, they do grow particularly well in Michigan, and they bloom for close to a month. And since neither apples nor lilacs are native plants, the apple doesn’t even have that going for it.

4 Responses
  1. Jenn Ridley permalink
    July 15, 2019

    When we bought the house in Houghton, two sides of the lot and part of a third were overgrown (to the point of not blooming) 10-14 foot tall lilacs, with narrow cut-throughs for the front sidewalk and driveway. It looked a bit Addams Family. We ripped two sides out, and drastically cut back the ones on the ‘back’ so that we’d eventually have a screen from the neighbor’s yard. Ripping them out was a couple of week’s worth of work, and J got really good at yanking them out with the car.

  2. Crprod permalink
    July 15, 2019

    Definitely not a piedmont North Carolina plant.

  3. Carole permalink
    July 15, 2019

    Your lilac, being exotic, has little wildlife value. Our native insects don’t recognize them as food, resulting in few insect pests. An oak can support over 500 different caterpillar species. Encourage you to read Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamay.

  4. Anne Bingham permalink
    July 16, 2019

    Our lilacs bloom late April to mid-May, depending on the weather, and because they grow beside our screened porch, we can’t use the porch until they finish pollinating or we’d be wracked by sneezing, not to mention tracking golden through the house. The timing usually is OK, because we live only a few miles inland from the western shore of Lake Michigan and it’s usually too cool around here to sit on the porch until the lilacs have finished blooming!

    FWIW, we did not plant them in this location . We think they’re original to the house, which is almost a century old. These days they’re mostly shaded by the street trees that weren’t there when they were planted, and every few winters they’re buried by hundreds of pounds of heavy wet snow that slide onto them all at once from the Mediterranean-style tile roof next door, but they just keep on a-lilac-ing even if most of the larger branches now have a 45ยบ slant from being smashed by the snow!

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