“When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,…”

With apologies to Walt Whitman, I borrowed the first line of his long poem as my title for this short article on the Purple Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) – the New Hampshire state flower. New Hampshire is one of several states that is blessed with both an official state flower and an official state wildflower – The Pink Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule). We discussed Minnesota’s state wildflower, the Showy Lady’s Slipper, in detail last week and I will touch on the “Pink” but look more closely at the Lilac.

The Purple Lilac is an extraordinary landscape plant. It can be grown as an individual focal bush, as a hedge, or even as a small tree.

As its name suggests, Purple Lilac has light purple flowers occurring in clusters amid the dark-green heart-shaped leaves. The Common Purple Lilac shrub produces suckers – new shoots that sprout from the base of the shrub, or from the roots. There are about 20 species of Lilacs or Syringa (genus) in flowering plants. Purple Lilacs belong to family Oleaceae (olive) and are native to Europe ( the Balkans) and Asia, and were imported to America in 1750. It is possible to encounter Lilacs on wildflower hunts but these are not native and have escaped cultivation most probably from old homesteads long abandoned.

The individual blossoms are captivating but its the mass blooming effect that makes New Hampshire’s state flower so popular.

The Purple Lilac flowers are produced in Spring. The small, fragrant flowers range in color from white to pink and all shades of purple. Each Purple Lilac flower is about 1 cm in diameter and has a tube-shaped base and bloom in pointed clusters or panicles. Fragrance intensity depends upon the bloom stage and is most intense on a warm, sunny afternoon. The Purple Lilac flowers later become dry capsules containing two-winged seeds. At the end of the season, you can harvest the seed from the dead flowers after they have dried, before they fall out of the seed pods onto the ground. Growing from seed takes time and patience. Most gardeners don’t want to wait  four to five years to see the first lilac blossoms. Nowadays, growing Lilacs from seed is a task left to horticulturalists and garden supply stores. If you are really into creating a unique variety, you can pollinate blooms by hand, protect them from cross-pollination, and carefully harvest the seed. After generations of plants and many, many years, you could create a new variety to add to over 1,000 that already exist.

Many varieties of Lilacs are available from plant nurseries.

Another popular way to grow new bushes, is to take small  runner shoots from an existing plant. Select shoots which are one to two feet tall. Look for good root systems and dig deeply to extract as much of the root as possible. The main root will be attached to the mother plant. Use clippers to cut it from the main bush. Plant the new lilac shoot in the sunny location you have selected and don’t forget to add plenty of compost to the soil before planting. Plant three to five shoots in each area. Water thoroughly. Like all transplants, the survival rate is higher, if transplanted in cooler, spring weather. Keep the soil around your transplant moist, but not water-logged. Lilac plants do not like wet soil.

Lilac root suckers are the best way to propagate Lilacs.

Let’s visit the New Hampshire state wildflower – the Pink Lady’s Slipper – one of my top ten wildflowers and the subject of several previous articles. The Lady’s Slipper may take up to ten years to produce the first bloom from seed but will live decades and a few wild plants have been documented as more than fifty years old. This makes harvesting them from the wild even more of a crime than simply a violation of state statutes. They like well drained but moist acidic soil and once the microenvironment is located, the wildflower enthusiast may be surprised with an entire community of blooming plants.

It is hard to believe these “Slippers” or Moccasin Flowers are decades old, but they are.
Wow! Exquisite Beauty!

Can you blame New Hampshire for choosing both flowers as its state floral emblem?

Now it is time to move southward and virtually visit our next “New” state – New Jersey – known as the Garden State. This moniker should give us a hint that we are in for a treat and indeed we are. Check back tomorrow as we stay with the color purple.

1 thought on ““When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,…”

  1. Beautiful stuff

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