Lilac Tree Vs Lilac Bushes: How To Grow & Identify Types of Lilac Flowers, Plants

Image of a lilac tree lilac bushes (shrubs) in an oval frame demonstrating how to grow lilac, how to identify types of lilac bushes, growing zones, leaves, flowers chart.

It’s been said that Lilacs are the true essence of spring, but is that a reference to the Lilac Tree or Lilac bushes? What’s the difference?

The lilac plant is actually a shrub, so it can sometimes be referred to as a tree or a bush. The main difference between a tree and a shrub is that a shrub (like the lilac bush) has multiple woody stems instead of a central prominent one.

If you are looking for a great plant or tree for your garden or yard, the Lilac is an excellent choice to consider. This ancient flower is revered for its medicinal qualities, legendary fragrance, use in cuisine and tea, and its inherent ability to aesthetically transform its surroundings.

Plus, Lilacs are long living. And they will grow as long as they are planted in well-draining soil.

With over 55% of people start a garden strictly for aesthetic purposes, learning how to grow lilac and how to identify types of lilac plants can help you completely alter your outdoor space.1

This complete guide explains the difference between Lilac trees and Lilac bushes, as well as offering great growing tips for this versatile plant.

Lilac Tree vs Lilac Bushes (The Basic Difference)

A Lilac Tree and Lilac Bushes are technically the same thing. There are probably over two dozen species varieties of Lilac,19 but it is usually classified as a flower, plant, or bush.

Technically and scientifically speaking, there is no such thing as a “Lilac Tree.”

A Lilac Tree is just a really tall, visually pleasing Lilac Bush that has often been trained to grow in this shape.

Lilac bush in a forest showing its branches with clusters of deep lilac flowers and few green leaves.

(Image: MabelAmber34)

It has been pruned and cut to have one primary stem or trunk and cultivated to resemble a tree.

While there are dozens of Lilac species varieties, there is also technically one kind of Lilac Tree that is cultivated to resemble a tree. It’s the Japanese Lilac, or the Syringa reticulata.

While some experts call the Japanese Lilac the one true Lilac Tree, many experts call it a “tree-form,” Lilac.2 In this full guide, you will learn how to plant a Lilac Tree and Lilac bushes, how to identify various species of Lilacs and more.

Let’s start this guide with a basic introduction to the Common Lilac, also known by its scientific name, Syringa vulgaris.

Common Lilac Basics

Before going in-depth on the difference between a Lilac Tree and Lilac bushes, let’s start with a baseline description of the Common Lilac.



Lilac tree in oval frame on green background.
  • Characteristics: The Lilac is a multi-stemmed bush or shrub with dark brown four-petal leaves that turn into different hues of purple and lavender when in bloom
  • Family: Oleaceae
  • Genus: Syringa
  • Leaf: Ovular-shaped four petal leaf
  • Bark: Light grey or light brown colored
  • Seed: Seed pods propagate from bark stems
  • Blossoms: April or May
  • Fruit: Lilacs produce double seed pods but no fruit
  • Native Habitat: The modern Common Lilac originated from Europe
  • Height: Lilac shrubs grow anywhere from four feet to 30 feet, depending on the species
  • Canopy: 15 to 20 Foot wide ovular-shaped canopy
  • Type: Deciduous

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Image Credit: Andreas (andreasmetallerreni)36

The Lilac is an ancient and well-known flower that is revered for it four-petaled flowers that turn into beautiful hues of purple and lavender when in bloom. Lilacs are amazingly fragrant and emit a pleasing scent.

The Lilac is a long-living plant species. The Common Lilac and its species variant could survive for a century or more.

The Common Lilac shrub likes to grow in fertile and well drained soil. Lilacs won’t grow optimally if their root systems are constantly soaked or rotted.

And the soil should be alkaline or neutral with a pH around 7.0.

Lilacs will even grow in less than nutrient soil conditions if you enrich the weak soil with compost, fertilizer, and nutrients.

Lilacs need direct sunlight to grow optimally but do like overly hot or humid weather conditions to grow in.

The Common Lilac is not considered to be an invasive or aggressively growing plant species. Most Lilacs are grown via cultivar grafts or stem cuttings.

How Tall Will My Lilac Shrub Get?

Common Lilac Trees and bushes typically grow about a foot to two feet annually under optimal conditions.

The Common Lilac bush is relatively easy to maintain if you space them out three feet or more. You must be vigilant and watch for new growth called “suckers.”

They are thin offshoot branches that poke up from the ground directly from the root. If you don’t prune regularly or grow all of your Lilac Bushes densely together, then their growth could potentially get out of hand and become unmanageable.

What Do Lilac Leaves, Lilac Flowers and Lilac Seeds look Like?

The Lilac Tree and Lilac bushes are deciduous. “Deciduous” is an scientific and umbrella term meaning that the plant or tree sheds its leaves during the autumn or winter months or whenever it is stressed.

This term can also refer to trees that bear fruit that falls from it as the fruit ripens.

Lilac tree identification chart showing Lilac tree leaves, Lilac tree flowers, Lilac tree seed pods, and Lilac Tree bark images in circle frames on a green background.

Lilac flowers can be processed into fragrances and essential oils. Lilac flowers are also edible.

The Lilac Plant has been used for medicinal treatments, recipes, making fragrances, and home remedies for hundreds of years.

Lilac Tree vs Lilac Bush Differences

You should not get too caught up in the distinctions between a Lilac Tree and Lilac Bushes.

Technically speaking, there is no real scientific definition for a “tree.”3 A tree is any plant that meets some predetermined and non-specific guidelines for such.

For example, a tree is any plant with one primary stem base, or trunk, is at least 15 feet tall, and features a wide and relatively dense canopy that shades the ground underneath.

Classifying a Lilac as a “tree,” or as a “bush,” is only as complicated as you want to make it. Since there are about 25+ Lilac species, or more depending on who you ask, any large and tall Lilac species with a single trunk could be considered a tree.

Smaller and shorter Lilac species can be considered bushes.

Read More: There are Over 35 Types of Lilies Flowers. Here’s how to Identify Them.

How To Identify a Lilac Bush

A Lilac Bush is also sometimes referred to as a Lilac Shrub. The easiest way to identify a Lilac Bush is to look for clusters of branch stems and a dense canopy of blooming flowers.

Look for multiple branch stems protruding from the soil base of the plant. These multiple branch stems crowd together like the lines in a family tree illustration to create a dense bushy canopy of fragrant flowers during bloom season.

Lilac Bushes can be densely crowded and packed together. But for optimal growth and maintenance, Lilac bushes should be spread out at least three feet apart when planted.

As they grow, they will create a dense hedge and canopy of flowers when they bloom and mature.

Closeup of Lilac Tree showing clusters of small light purple flowers.

(Image: Gabriele Lässer29)

The typical Lilac bush or shrub can stand as little as a few inches to over eight feet in height. Remember that a tree technically has one bulky trunk or branch stem growing out from the soil.

Some Lilac bushes have multiple, tall, thin, and spindly branch stem systems that can reach up to over eight feet. These bushes may look like trees but they are really a bush since there is no one bulky trunk stem protruding from the base.

One of the easiest ways to identify a Lilac bush is to look for “suckers,” growing out of the ground.4 A sucker is also known as a basal shoot or offshoot.

Lilac Basal Shoots

Basal shoots are immature stems that grow directly from the Lilac root and crowd around the base of the soil where the main branch stem system protrudes.

Lilac Bushes naturally grow more colonies by growing out these suckers directly from the root. To keep these suckers under control, you need to learn how to safely dig up the soil and tear them or surgically tear them away from the roots.

If you cut the sucker at the soil line, this activity will only stress the Lilac bush. In reaction, the Lilac bush will then grow more suckers.

Most Lilacs are grown as bushes or shrubs, so it is OK if you have never heard of a Lilac Tree. If you go to buy Lilacs from a botanist or garden especially florist, you may be buying cultivars or dissected Lilac shrubs that have been grafted onto a Lilac branch stem.

It is much easier to grow a Lilac Bush or Lilac Tree from a cultivar or stem cutting that straight from a seed. (More on that later.)

The typical Lilac Bush or shrub can live for several decades and even over a century. If you planted a Lilac Tree or bush in your garden or on your property, it might potentially outlive you.

How To Identify Lilac Tree

Technically speaking, there is no such thing as a Lilac Tree. And even though there is one species of Lilac Tree, the Japanese Lilac Tree, it is still technically considered a “tree-form.”

A typical Lilac Tree, or tree-form, can grow as high as 13 to over 30 feet tall. The typical Lilac Tree needs a lot of space to grow and is planted with a wide distance berth from other trees.

Wide shot of Lilac Tree blossoms situated behind a home garden shed.

(Image: Accuruss30)

After planting a Lilac cultivar or seed stem, you must cut off or prune any seed head pod growths and sucker growth that develops. The easiest way to identify a Lilac Tree is to look for one bulky trunk.

Some tall growing Lilac Bushes can grow to just under 10 feet tall, but its multiple branch stems of roughly equal size and girth disqualify it from being classified as a tree.

So technically speaking, a Lilac Tree is basically a tall Lilac Bush with one bulky stem base, or a trunk.

What Is a Japanese Lilac Tree?

The only true Lilac that grows as a tree, even though it is technically a tree-form of a Lilac Bush, is the Japanese Lilac Tree.

The Japanese Lilac Tree can grow to a maximum height of anywhere between 39 to 50 feet. Most common Japanese Lilac Trees usually range in height anywhere between 20 to 30 feet however.5

The Japanese Lilac can also be grown as a bush or shrub and may be one of the types of white flowers.

The Japanese Lilac Tree’s trunk is about a foot thick in diameter. Its canopy of leaves and blooming flowers can spread out as wide as 15 to 25 feet in length.

Before flowering, the Japanese Lilac’s leaves are green or a greenish brown color.  After the leaves fall off before bloom, the tree grows fragrant white and creamy-white colored flowers.

Japanese Lilac Trees are known to bloom a little later than the Common Lilac. It blooms in March and even sometimes in late May and into June.

Some Japanese Lilac Trees even bloom in early summer.

Japanese Lilac Trees optimally flower for only 14 days during blooming season. The typical Japanese Lilac Tree could live as long as 40 or 50 years.

When Was the Japanese Lilac Tree First Cultivated?

The Japanese Lilac Tree is native to northern region of Japan. The first Japanese Lilac Tree specimens and seeds were introduced to the United States in 1876.6

The first Japanese Lilac Tree in the country was planted in an arboretum at Harvard University back then.

What Is an Ivory Silk Lilac Tree?

An Ivory Silk Lilac Tree and Japanese Lilac Tree are the same thing. It even has the same scientific name as the Japanese Lilac Tree, Syringa reticulata.

Closeup of Japanese Lilac or Ivory Silk Lilac showing clusters of white and creamy-white small flowers.

(Image: Famartin31)

There is also a species variant of the Ivory Silk Lilac that is grown as a cultivar or stem cutting from the Japanese Silk Tree.7 The only true difference between the Japanese Lilac Tree and its cultivar is that the Ivory Silk Tree is just a little less fragrant.

A typical Ivory Silk Tree could live for a long as 40 years.

What Is a Korean Lilac Tree?

A Korean Lilac Tree is not a tree at all.

It is really a tall, fragrant and densely flowered bush or shrub. The plant was reportedly accidentally discovered in a garden in China in 1909.8

Specimens and seeds of the plant were sent to the United States shortly thereafter.

Its scientific name is Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’.28 “Palibin,” means “tree form.” Another cultivar variant of the Korean Lilac Tree is also known as Syringa pubescens.

The Korean Lilac Tree is also called the Dwarf Korean Lilac Tree. It grows up to a maximum height of five to 10 feet.9

It is a shorter, shrub version of the Japanese Lilac Tree. It basically has a similar blooming period.

It’s flowers are colored light purple and are fragrant.

How Tall Do Lilacs Get?

If you want to grow a Lilac bush, it can be as tall as a few inches and up to 10 or 13 feet. You can keep the height of Lilac Bushes in check by pruning long growing stems regularly as a it grows after planting.

If you cut all of the branch stems and leave one to grow on a Common Lilac, it could grow up to 15 or 20 feet, and sometimes a little more.

A Japanese Lilac Tree could grow as high as 50 under optimal circumstances.

What Are the Best Growing Zones for Lilac Tree? (Where To Grow)

USDA Hardiness Zones are regions in the United States where some plants or trees are likelier to thrive than others based on the local climate and growing conditions.27

Well-prepared gardeners refer to this map regularly to research the ideal growing conditions for any plants they want to grow.

So, what are the best growing zones for Lilac Tree? Where to grow?

Lilac Growing Zones

The ideal Lilac growing zones is anywhere in zones 3 through 8.10 Lilacs should be ideally grown in regions that experience a winter season.

The Common Lilac is deciduous. It needs a season to have its leaves fall off and become dormant to prepare for the flowering season in late spring or early summer.

Low-angle shot of Lilac Tree showing varying colors of purple flowers with a building in the background.

(Image: Irina Iriser32)

But there are sometimes exceptions to this growing zone rule for Lilacs. Syringa hyacinthiflora, which is also known as the “Early Flowering Lilac,” may be able to withstand the colder climate of zone 2.

The Syringa hyacinthiflora is a crossbred plant combing characteristics of Syringa vulgaris, the Common Lilac, and Syringa oblata, also known as the “Broadleaf Lilac.” A botanist named Victor Lemoine created this crossbred Lilac hybrid that can withstand colder weather in 1876.

How Long It Takes To Grow Lilac Tree

It can take about three to four years for a Lilac bush to mature and begin flowering. It will take a couple of more years, and the strategic pruning of branch stems, before it grows tall enough to qualify as a tree.

This answers the question, “How long it takes to grow Lilac Tree?”

What Are the Watering Needs for Lilac Trees and Shrubs?

You can water a Lilac Tree or Lilac shrub whenever you stick your finger in the soil and notice the first inch or two of soil is dry. As long as you check for soil dryness, you can water it every 10 days to two weeks.

Those are the watering needs for Lilac Trees and shrubs.

How Far Apart To Plant Lilac Tree?

Lilac Bushes that are less than eight feet tall should be at least four feet apart. If you have tall Lilac Trees, like a Japanese Lilac Tree, then they should be spaced apart by at least 10 to 12 feet.

Closeup of Lilac Bush showing branch tips with deep purple Lilac blossoms and yellow-green leaves with pointed tips.

(Image: congerdesign33)

This answers the question, “how far apart to plant Lilac Trees?”

What Are the Common Pests of the Lilac Tree?

The Lilac Tree attracts many kind of pests due to its fragrance and edible flowers. The common pests of the Lilac Tree includes but are not limited to:

  • Bagworm
  • Mice
  • Lilac borer
  • Mealy bugs
  • Spider mites
  • White fly
  • Japanese beetle

When To Plant Lilac Tree for the Best Yield

Some may ask, “When to plant Lilac Tree for the best yield?”. The best time of the year to plant a Lilac Bush or Lilac Tree is in mid-summer and right before winter.18

So, you could start planting anytime between mid-August and mid or late October.

Remember that Lilacs need a season of winter and dormancy to thrive since they are deciduous plants. If you plant them in mid-summer, the hardy roots of the Lilac will continue to grow until the ground freezes.

Lilacs can survive mild and harsh winters.

How Much Carbon Does Lilac Tree Sequester?

Carbon sequestering is the process by which plants absorb carbon dioxide from the ambient atmosphere and environment. The carbon is then slowly released into the environment in a natural recurring cycle as trees and plant die.

Even though plants breathe CO2 and expel oxygen, most of the carbon absorbed by plants and trees in the wild is stored in the roots and soil of the global ecosystem. And one of the most efficient carbon sequesters out there are shrubs and bushes.

Barring the Japanese Lilac Tree, which is technically a tree-form of a bush anyway, the Lilac Tree is really a shrub.

The majority of global carbon sequestration processes,20 which is the natural process in which the environment scrubs carbon dioxide from the air, occur deep within soil and plant and tree roots. Maintaining groves of Lilac Bushes or Lilac Trees can help you do your part to protect the environment.2

A 2020 science experiment proved that shrubs growing and spread out over 2.47 acres of land can sequester over 15 tons of carbon dioxide annually.11

Because human beings and corporations dump more carbon dioxide into the ecosystem than can be naturally recycled via carbon sequestration, global warming is increasing exponentially.

If humanity does not decrease current and progressively increasing annual carbon dioxide emissions by over 55% by 2032, then global temperatures could increase by over 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius).12

Even though it does not sound like a lot, these slight temperature variances are causing global warming, melting the polar ice caps, “once-in-a-century,” weather events to occur annually, and destroying the environment.

To help fight global warming, all you need to do is simply plant a Lilac Tree or Lilac Bushes in your garden or home landscape. And encourage your neighbors and friends to do the same.

Read More: Black Locust Tree

Lilac Tree Facts

Here are a few things that you probably did not know about the Lilac Tree. The Lilac comes from the species family, Oleaceae, which is also shared by the olive.13

Lilac leaves are edible. You can eat them as if, or dip them in batter and fry them.

Closeup of Lilac Tree showing green leaves and droopy flower stems with purple Lilac Tree flowers.

(Image: congerdesign35)

There are numerous recipes for making Lilac-derived sugar, syrup, and other foods.14

Lilacs were long believed to possess medicinal benefits.15 The Chinese used to believe that Lilacs could treat frostbite.

If there is any plant you are considering planting today, it should be Lilacs.

Lilacs sequester carbon. They smell sweet and you can make your own essential oils or fragrances with them.

You can also eat Lilac leaves, use them in recipes, or in DIY home remedies.

Understanding how to identify Lilac trees and grow Lilac bushes can transfer your outdoor spaces beautifully.

Frequently Asked Questions About Lilac Tree

What Are the Best Growing Conditions for Lilac Tree Care?

The best growing conditions for Lilac Tree is to not plant Lilacs near or on top of grass. Grass absorb and retain a lot of nitrogen from fertilizers, which hamper the growth of Lilacs.

What Are the Best Planting Tips for Lilac Tree Care?

The best planting tips for Lilac Tree care are to make sure that the soil is well-draining and won’t rot the root system. Also, make sure that wherever you plant your Lilacs, they will always receive adequate air circulation.

How Much Sunlight Does Lilac Tree Need Each Day?

So, “how much sunlight does Lilac Tree need each day?” A Lilac Tree and Lilac bushes need at least six hours or more of sunlight exposure daily.

What Are the Steps on How To Stop Lilac Tree Disease?

There are several forms of Lilac disease and blight.21 The best defense on how to stop Lilac Tree disease (or fungus, rot, whatever is applicable) is vigilance – look for tell-tale signs of powdery mildew on leaves, don’t overwater the leaves, and immediately prune or remove discolored and misshappen leaves, flowers, or branch stems.

What Is the Best Lilac Tree Disease Prevention Tip?

Always remain vigilant, inspect your Lilac Tree or bushes regularly, and liberally apply a trusted fungicide to the base soil and basal shoots when in doubt. Once disease or blight takes hold, all you can do is prune or remove the dying plant at a loss.

What Is Natural Pest Control for Lilac Tree?

There is not a lot you can do if pests start eating your Lilacs. Some of the natural pest control for Lilac Tree are to always remove dead leaves and branches and consider installing an irrigation system that redirects water so that it does not become stagnant near or under your Lilacs.

What Are the Best Strategies for Growing Lilac Tree From a Seed?

Growing Lilac Tree from a seed is a very slow and laborious process. You need to soak the seeds in water for a day, place one seed in a container with perlite, or volcanic glass pebbles, and then place the seed in your fridge or freezer for two months or more to simulate winter dormancy.16

Is Growing a Lilac Tree From a Cutting a Good Idea?

Yes, growing a Lilac Tree from a cutting is a good idea. Most Lilacs are grown this way – you can just plant a Lilac cutting into the soil and start the growing process.

Is Growing a Lilac Tree From a Seedling a Good Idea?

Growing a Lilac Tree from a seedling may need to be in a nursery for a few weeks or months before you can transplant it to your garden or landscape.

What Are Some Companion Plants for Growing Lilac Tree?

There are many companion plants for growing Lilac Tree. They have similar traits but can provide some variety to your landscape as well.

What Is a Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree?

The Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree comes from a family of Magnolia derived trees and shrubs.23 Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree grows about two feet annually, can grow up to 20 feet, can live for 80 years, and are relatively easy to maintain.

What Is a Cherry Blossom Tree?

The Cherry Blossom Tree is the national tree of Japan and is also called “Sakura.”26 The Cherry Blossom Tree beautiful blossoms are edible and can be used in a variety of dishes.

What Is a Willow Tree?

The iconic Weeping Willow Tree is easy to grow. Weeping Willow trees can grow over three feet annually and up to a maximum height of 50 feet.25

What Is a Beech Tree?

A Beech Tree can live for 100 to 300 years, depending on the species.22 A Beech Tree grows a nut that is rich in protein and natural fats, but should only be eaten when cooked.

What Is a Purple Weeping Willow Tree?

Salix purpurea, is the scientific name of the Purple Weeping Willow Tree. It is not really a tree – it is a strikingly aesthetic shrub or tree-form species variant of the Weeping Willow.

How Do You Identify Lilac Tree Leaves?

The common Lilac features dark green to green-colored heart-shaped leaves. The leaves have no hair-like fuzz, are smooth to the touch, are are visually arranged as opposing pairs.

How Do You Identify Lilac Tree Flower?

Lilac flowers are almost trumpet-shaped as they bud – but when they open and bloom, they open into purple-shaped four-petal flowers.

How Do You Identify Lilac Tree Seeds?

After a Lilac has finished blooming, it will grow a double chamber, brown-colored seed pod where the flower dropped.

What Is the Best Lilac Tree Growing Zone?

Since a Lilac Tree and a Lilac bush are technically the same thing, you can and maintain a Lilac Tree anywhere within USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 8.


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3045 year old Purple Syringa (Lilac) tree in bull bloom Photo by Accuruss / Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0). Resized. From Wikimedia Commons <>

312020-05-27 06 59 00 Japanese tree lilac flowers along Tayloe Court in the Franklin Farm section of Oak Hill, Fairfax County, Virginia. Photo by Famartin / Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0). Resized. From Wikimedia Commons <,_Fairfax_County,_Virginia.jpg>

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33congerdesign. Pixabay. Retrieved from <>

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37Featured Image: Light Purple Lilac Flowers in bloom Photo by Annie Lang. (2022, May 3) / Unsplash License. Cropped and added text, shape, and background elements. Unsplash. Retrieved January 10, 2024, from <>