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Purchasing a Lilac Can Be Tricky: Not All Lilacs Are Fragrant

Category: Presenting "The Curious Gardener"

Lilac (genus: Syringa) is a deciduous shrub that’s most known for its pleasing fragrance and lilac colored flowers. There are literally hundreds of different varieties of lilacs, ranging in color from deep purple and lilac (hence the name), to white and pink. And from pleasingly fragrant, to not at all fragrant, to downright unpleasant smelling (Japanese tree lilac).  Often when purchasing a lilac the blooms are not open, so it’s impossible to tell whether it will be fragrant, and what color the blossoms will be.  If you do your research ahead of time, though, you can identify some varieties you want. 

Here we’ll take a closer look at some of the things you should consider when purchasing lilacs.


Of course, the fragrance alone is reason enough for some people to purchase lilacs. The exact aroma will depend on the variety of lilac you choose. With that said, however, you can expect most varieties to posses a strong, fresh fragrance that some people compare to a mixture of lavender and wild berries. You can use cut lilacs indoors to create a pleasing aroma in the atmosphere.

So, which lilacs are the most fragrant? Within the most common species, S. vulgaris (common lilac), here is a list of 5 cultivars that are fragrant and readily available. Since the species has over 800 cultivars, there are many other fragrant species beyond these 5, but there are also some that have no fragrance at all.  

Syringa vulgaris ‘Ellen Willmott’

Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Victor Lemoine’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Congo’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’

S. patula is another fragrant variety with a very popular cultivar, ‘Miss Kim’, that is usually smaller than the species. 


Another thing you’ll want to consider when purchasing a lilac is the color. Think about where you intend to use it and how the color will affect the surroundings. For instance, if you intend on transplanting it into your garden, then you’ll likely want to choose a color that’s going to blend in with your other Spring blooming plants. On the other hand, if you intend on using the lilac indoors as a decorative flower, you can choose a more diverse color for greater visibility inside your home.

Lilacs are wonderful shrubs that are very easy to grow. They thrive in cooler climates, which is why one doesn’t see them in the southern states.  So, if you want to give your garden a fresh new look and smell, try planting some lilacs. Just remember to choose one of the fragrant varieties.

13 thoughts on “Purchasing a Lilac Can Be Tricky: Not All Lilacs Are Fragrant

  1. I am looking to have some one plant a Lilac tree. This new tree will go where a blue spruce is coming down. this new tree flowers will be purple. this tree will be planted 5 to 7 feet from the old trunk of the pine. the soil in the land scape is all clay. I am looking for a 1.5″ to 2″ calaper tree 15 to 20 gallon. any information will help. I live in Michigan about 30 miles from lake Michigan.

  2. Katy Johnson says:

    Whats your zip code?

  3. i want an old lilac, not hybred the common light purple that smells fantastic and grows large. Why can’t I find it?

  4. Does anyone know which lilac will SURVIVE in Northern California? The Bay Area, specifically.

  5. Alexandra Kelly says:

    Lilac for Northern California: In my childhood home in Sonoma we had huge, old lilacs that I believe were President Lincoln. They were large when we moved there, and still going strong 20 years later. We never once fertilized or did anything for them. The soil was dry rocky clay on our hillside, and the temperatures were often well over 100 degrees in the summer. I recommend that you try them.

  6. Nancy Passerini says:

    We are moving to a high altitude North Carolina property.
    I would like the fragrant lilac colored ones. Which is a good choice for that area?
    Thank you!

  7. Any suggestions on where to purchase the President Lincoln lilac? I live in Missouri

  8. I live in Southern Delaware 19973 and would just like to know what fragrant lilacs will bloom here. We are sand, not soil, so I know I will have to buy garden soil. Question 2 is about yellow lilacs. Are they fragrant? Have not seen any. Only pictures. Linda

  9. Patti-Lynne says:

    I live in Sacramento area in California. Id love a shorter 4 ft white fragrant lilac. What would you suggest? Thanks!

  10. Ekkehard-Teja Wilke says:

    I live near Chicago, I am looking for highly scented lilac, white, yellow, and purple variety

  11. What’s the best lillac that can adapt in north central Texas?

  12. Don, I think this is a question for your local nurseryman or woman. Thank you!

  13. Iva Massey says:

    Looking for a deep purple lilac with strong beautiful fragrance that attracts humming birds and butterflies.

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