Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Plant Profile; Japanese Tree Lilac

     Japanese Tree Lilac Syringa reticulata, often sold under the name Ivory Silk Tree is technically a lilac but has little in common with the more common French Lilacs. These trees really are from China, Japan and South East Russia so they are very hardy for our region. In Calgary they grow to around 20 feet and bloom in mid to late June. The flowers are white and have sweet fragrance that reminds me of something from childhood that I can't quite put my finger on. Above, a street near my house is lined in Japanese Lilacs, a pleasant and unusual choice for a boulevard tree here.

     The flowers of Japanese Lilac are reminiscent of Astilbe and last only a couple of weeks. The large leaves are interesting throughout the rest of the season however, sometimes turning pale yellow in the fall.

     Two Japanese Lilacs have been growing in this inner city park for many decades. These trees are usually sold as a standard but I often see them with a few branching trunks that make a pleasant oval tree form. If you don't like French Lilacs because of the suckering then this lilac is for you, it grows only as a tree, not a shrub like the common purple ones you may associate with the name lilac.

     The bark of these lilacs is interesting in the winter being mostly smooth and dark with a shininess that is a nice contrast to the stark white of snow.

     I saw a lot of these trees on a recent trip to Quebec and Ontario where they also seem to thrive. So even though they are moderately common here for some reason I don't mind them! They are undemanding and rewarding, not growing too large or dropping berries or litter and very disease resistant, truly one of the best ornamental trees for northern gardens!

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