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Japanese Tree Lilac, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights May 2017.
Photo of Japanese Tree Lilac is from John Fech, Nebraska Extension Educator

May is a great time of the year, the weather is beginning to warm up more often and our plants are really getting growing. One of my favorites of the spring is the Lilac shrub with the wonderfully scented flowers. There is actually a tree form of a lilac, the Japanese Tree Lilac, that could be planted in your landscape as well for more impact.

Japanese Tree Lilac, Syringa reticulata, is a small tree with large clusters of white flowers. It grows up to 20-30 feet tall and 15-25 feet wide which allows it to be used in more locations due to the smaller size. Japanese Tree Lilac produces large panicles of creamy white flowers against the dark green foliage in late spring to early summer. The flowers are fragrant, but not to the extent that common lilac shrubs are, the scent is often compared to a Privet shrub. The leaves are opposite, 2-4 inches long and 1-3 inches wide, and are present on the tree early in the year, often by late March. The fruit produced on a Japanese Tree Lilac is a warty, dry capsule that is ¾ inches long and appears in the fall for further interest. Another interesting trait of the Japanese Tree Lilac is the smooth, gray bark that has very noticeable lenticels, the corky spot on the bark that allows for gas exchange through the trunk, similar to the bark of a cherry tree.

Japanese Tree Lilac can be grown as an understory tree or as a specimen tree. It grows best in full sun but will tolerate part shade found in an understory condition. It is a very adaptable tree and will tolerate Acid or Alkaline soils as well as the street conditions including salt spray in the winter months. Japanese Tree Lilac will even tolerate drought conditions; however, it is a tree that is not tolerant of poor drainage areas. Most often, Japanese Tree Lilac is planted as a specimen tree in a landscape for additional flowering interest.

There are many good varieties to choose from when looking at Japanese Tree Lilac, other than going with the straight species. ‘Golden Eclipse’ is an interesting choice that is more compact and the leaves develop a golden edge as the season progresses. ‘Ivory Silk’ is a compact choice as well, that is sturdy and compact with a dense form and it blooms at a younger age than some of the other varieties. If you want to add a longer season of interest, you can plant ‘Ivory Silk’ and Signature together. Signature flowers 1-2 weeks later than ‘Ivory Silk’ and has smaller, more rounded flower clusters.

Japanese Tree Lilac is not a great choice for wildlife, however it does have value as a nesting location for many songbirds, according to North Dakota State University.

Spring is an inviting season for many to go outdoors and enjoy nature. With a tree like Japanese Tree Lilac, it becomes even more enjoyable to go outside to view the wonderful, large, white panicles of flowers on a small tree. The size of this tree makes it suitable for many locations, and its adaptability helps it in many more ways. So the next time you look for a small tree, look for a Japanese Tree Lilac.

Nicole Stoner
Nicole Stoner
Extension Educator - Horticulture

As a professional horticulturist, Nicole's focus areas include trees, shrubs, lawns, gardens, and insects.

Gage County Extension
1115 West Scott
Beatrice, NE

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