Lilac Trees

The Sad Beauty of Lilac Trees

Perhaps some of the most beautiful of the trees on the American landscape are the beautiful lilac trees.  The lilac’s beautiful pink blossoms have inspired poets like Whitman and painters like Van Gogh.  The tree’s blossoms have made such an impression, that their particular brand of pink has come to be known as lilac—such an eponymous history points to the greatness and influence of the lilac.

So what is it that has made the lilac tree so influential?

The Lilac is a Beautiful Growth

It is first of all a beautiful flower.  It comes not only in lilac, but in shades of purple, pink and white.  It flowers in the early spring and grows to from ten to fifty feet in height depending on the variety and conditions for its growth.

The lilac blossom is perhaps one of the most beautiful.  In one variety, the pinkish purple petals open up to a softly tinted set of stamen.  The interior of the petals in this variety have yellow flares adding another layer of color to this already colorful flower.

The Lilac Tree is Very Popular

If you become a fan of the lilac tree you will certainly not be alone.  Many cities and locales have annual lilac festivals where lilac lovers celebrate the wonderful world of lilacs.  Two states—New Hampshire and Idaho-- have chosen the lilac as their state flower and throughout the world you will find those that celebrate the lilac’s virtues.  Many Mediterranean countries associate lilacs with Easter, so they feature prominently in their celebrations.

You may be surprised to learn this but the most common lilac tree is the Japanese lilac.  It is a beautiful tree but unusually fragile, which makes it even more surprising that it should be so common.  Wind can easily damage a Japanese lilac; this is especially problematic since the Japanese lilac is so slow to heal.

The Lilac Has a Rich Literary and Cultural History

The lilac features prominently in European and American Literature and painting. The lilac is one of the favorites of the Impressionist painters because of the color palate it allows them to employ and because of the human scale of its trees.  Many an impressionist has found the lilac a worthy study for one of their studies of wind and color.

Poets too have found something worth describing in the lilac’s beauty.  Of these, the most famous and beautiful example is Whitman’s poem written on the occasion of Lincoln’s assassination, “When Lilacs Last in My Dooryard Bloomed”.  The poem uses the pruning of lilacs in spring as symbols for both Lincoln’s murder and the death of the young soldiers in the Civil War.  The death of Lincoln profoundly moved Whitman, who served as a nurse during the battle of Gettysburg and witnessed first hand the horrors of that war. It is one of Whitman’s most beautiful and poignant poems and even a century and a half since its penning, still reads with the same immediacy and heart-wrenching sadness.

A Low Maintenance Tree

Finally, the lilac tree is easy to grow.  As long as you are in a moderate climate, you will find that the lilac tree grows easily with little prompting. There really isn’t much to it when it comes to this tree.

The one tip that veteran growers of lilacs give is that they flower best if you don’t prune them.  Leave them to grow on their own and they will repay you with their best blooms.  If you do need to prune them, try to do so in the early summer soon after their early flowering.

So if you want to introduce one of these wonderful trees into your garden, go ahead.  You are likely to find them a wonderful addition to your garden. 



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