Appearance''Syringa vulgaris'' is a large deciduous shrub or multi-stemmed small tree, growing to 6–7 m high, producing secondary shoots from the base or roots, with stem diameters of up to 20 cm , which in the course of decades may produce a small clonal thicket. The bark is grey to grey-brown, smooth on young stems, longitudinally furrowed and flaking on older stems. The leaves are simple, 4–12 cm and 3–8 cm broad, light green to glaucous, oval to cordate, with pinnate leaf venation, a mucronate apex and an entire margin. They are arranged in opposite pairs or occasionally in whorls of three. The flowers have a tubular base to the corolla 6–10 mm long with an open four-lobed apex 5–8 mm across, usually lilace to mauve, occasionally white. They are arranged in dense, terminal panicles 8–18 cm long. The fruit is a dry, smooth brown capsule, 1–2 cm long, splitting in two to release the two winged seeds.
EvolutionLilacs — both ''Syringa vulgaris'' and ''S.'' × ''persica'' the finer, smaller "Persian lilac", now considered a natural hybrid — were introduced into European gardens at the end of the sixteenth century, from Ottoman gardens, not through botanists exploring the Balkan habitats of ''S. vulgaris''. The Holy Roman Emperor's ambassador, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, is generally credited with supplying lilac slips to Carolus Clusius, about 1562. Well-connected botanists, like the great herbalist John Gerard, soon had the rarity in their gardens: Gerard notes that he had lilacs growing “in very great plenty” in 1597, but lilacs were not mentioned by Shakespeare, and John Loudon was of the opinion that the Persian lilac had been introduced into English gardens by John Tradescant the elder. Tradescant's Continental source for information on the lilac, and perhaps ultimately for the plants, was Pietro Andrea Mattioli, as one can tell from a unique copy of Tradescant's plant list in his Lambeth garden, an adjunct of his ''Musaeum Tradescantianum''; it was printed, though probably not published, in 1634: it lists ''Lilac Matthioli''. That Tradescant's "lilac of Mattioli's" was a white one is shown by Elias Ashmole's manuscript list, ''Trees found in Mrs Tredescants Ground when it came into my possession'' : "Syringa alba".
In the American colonies, lilacs were introduced in the eighteenth century. Peter Collinson, F.R.S., wrote to the Pennsylvania gardener and botanist John Bartram, proposing to send him some, and remarked that John Custis of Virginia had a fine "collection", which Ann Leighton interpreted as signifying common and Persian lilacs, in both purple and white, "the entire range of lilacs possible" at the time.
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