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Lilacs (Syringa spp.) are about 10 species of shrubs and small trees in the olive family (Oleaceae). Lilacs are native to Eurasia but have been widely planted elsewhere as ornamental shrubs.

The common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is the most familiar species to most people. The common lilac has shiny green wedge-shaped leaves without teeth on the margins which are arranged alternately on the twigs.

A lilac in bloom. Photograph by James Sikkema. Reproduced by permission.

This and other species of lilacs develop large numbers of spike-like inflorescences in the early springtime before the leaves have developed. These flowers are rich in nectar and fragrance and are pollinated by insects.

The common lilac is originally native to southeastern Europe and adjacent parts of southwestern Asia and is the oldest and most widespread species in cultivation. Other species include the Persian lilac (S. persica), the Chinese lilac (S. oblata), and the Japanese lilac (S. japonica). However, hundreds of horticultural hybrids have been bred by crossing the flowers of various species of lilacs. If the hybrids are considered to have desirable attributes in terms of flower shape or color, fragrance, or tolerance of local or regional environmental conditions, it may be given a distinctive name and is subsequently propagated by rooting vegetative shoots, known as cuttings.

Lilacs have been widely planted as horticultural species in Eurasia, North America, and elsewhere that a suitable, temperate climate occurs. Lilacs are utilized in this way because they are relatively easy to grow, and they develop spectacular displays of white, lavender, or purple flowers in the early springtime while also perfuming the air with their fragrance. Lilac flowers contain fragrant oils that are sometimes used to flavor candy or cake or to manufacture perfume.

Lilacs sometimes escape from cultivation and becomes a locally invasive pest that may displace native shrubs from early successional or roadside habitats.

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