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A deciduous shrub or small tree, up to 20 ft high, usually producing a crowd of erect stems, but occasionally a single trunk over 2 ft in girth, clothed with spirally arranged flakes of bark; shoots and leaves quite glabrous. Leaves heart-shaped or ovate, 2 to 6 in. long, from three-fourths to almost as much wide near the base; stalk 3⁄4 to 11⁄4 in. long. Panicles pyramidal, 6 to 8 in. long, usually in pairs from the terminal buds. On cultivated improved varieties, panicles 12 to 18 in. long are produced. Flowers ‘lilac’, delightfully fragrant; corolla-tube 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 in. long, the lobes concave; calyx and flower-stalks more or less furnished with minute gland-tipped down. Seed-vessels smooth, 5⁄8 in. long, beaked. Series Syringa.
Native of the mountainous regions of E. Europe. Introduced to W. Europe in the 16th century. It has been cultivated in England for over three hundred years, and is now as characteristic a feature of village scenery as almost any native shrub.
For a selection of garden varieties of S. vulgaris (and of S. × hyacinthiflora, its hybrid with S. oblata), and a note on their cultivation and pruning, see pp. 544-50.