Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Littleleaf of the Lilac World

Species name: Syringa microphylla

Common name: littleleaf lilac

Location: Ontario

Lilacs are deciduous shrubs that are native to Europe and eastern Asia. This specific species of lilac, the littleleaf lilac, is native to China. As many gardening websites suggest about this plant, it is a "spreading" plant in North America meaning it is invasive. In fact, walking through natural areas around this time of year the most predominant flowering shrubby growth are different species of lilac that have escaped from backyard landscaping. As the name suggests, the leaves are smaller than the traditional ornamental species of lilac ("micro" means small and "phylla" means leaf or leaves) and the scent of the flowers is also somewhat different. The smell reminds me of South Carolina for some reason; my family and I used to go to Myrtle Beach for camping vacations around the Victoria Day weekend when I was in elementary school. I can't explain why, but the smell of littleleaf lilac is exactly the same as what I remember the beach mixed with the pine trees of the campground smelled like.

Lilac flowers are incredibly popular with many different pollinators due to the shape of the flowers, the colour, and their scent. Bees are attracted by their colour and scent, butterflies are attracted because of the tube-like shape of the flower to get to the nectaries, and hummingbirds can sometimes be seen around the flowers in the early summer. Already this year we've had 5 or 6 different species of buzzing, stinging insects swarm our lilac bushes which would be a nightmare for someone allergic to bees!

Other than ornamental uses, lilac plants aren't used for much. There was some historical use of lilac wood in knife handles and in musical instruments, but for the most part other woods or artificially-created materials are used. There is no documented medicinal use of lilac plants, but the essential oil is often used in aromatherapy since a lot of people report it the smell of these plants has a calming quality. Lilacs are the state flower of New Hampshire.

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