Growing Syringa villosa Vahl: Tips for a Flourishing Lilac Garden

The Syringa villosa Vahl, a member of the Oleaceae family, is a robust shrub that can grow up to 4 meters tall.

Its branches are upright and stout, with a gray-brown hue, while the leaves range from ovate to broadly elliptical, and from inversely ovate to elongated elliptical shapes, showcasing a deep green upper surface with a powdery green underside.

The conical inflorescence stands erect, sprouting from the terminal buds, and is either oblong or pyramidal in shape. The flowers exude a fragrant aroma; the sepals are sharply pointed or blunt.

The corolla varies from pale purple-red and pink to white, with the petals spreading outward at a right angle upon maturation, shaped as ovate or elongated elliptical. The fruit is oblong, with the blooming period in May and June, followed by fruiting in September.

Syringa villosa Vahl 红丁香

This lilac thrives on mountain slopes, in shrub thickets, alongside ditches, and near rivers at altitudes ranging from 1,200 to 2,200 meters.

The Villosa Lilac is an excellent ornamental variety within the genus Syringa, known for its resilience.

I. Morphological Characteristics

As a shrub reaching heights of up to 4 meters, its branches stand upright, are thick, gray-brown, and dotted with lenticels. The young twigs are pale gray-brown, either smooth or minutely soft-haired, also with lenticels.

Leaves are ovate to broadly elliptical, measuring 4-11 (-15) centimeters in length and 1.5-6 (-11) centimeters in width, with sharply pointed or gradually tapering tips, and bases ranging from cuneate to broadly wedge-shaped to nearly round.

The upper surface is a deep green and hairless, while the underside is a powdery green with sparse, soft, adpressed hairs, or only hairy along the veins; some are hairless. The leaf stalks are 0.8-2.5 centimeters long, either smooth or slightly soft-haired.

The upright conical inflorescence, which develops from terminal buds, is oblong or pyramidal, measuring 5-13 (-17) centimeters in length and 3-10 centimeters in width.

The axis of the inflorescence, along with the pedicels and sepals, is either hairless or with minute soft hair, short soft hair, or soft hair, and is also dotted with lenticels. The pedicels are 0.5-1.5 millimeters long.

The flowers are highly fragrant, with sepals 2-4 millimeters long, either sharply pointed or blunt. The corolla is pale purple-red, pink to white, with a slender tube, occasionally thicker up to 3 millimeters, nearly cylindrical, and 0.7-1.5 centimeters long.

The petals spread at right angles when mature, are ovate or elongated elliptical, measuring 3-5 millimeters long, with inwardly curved tips forming a hood-like beak that protrudes.

The anthers are yellow, about 3 millimeters long, positioned at the throat of the corolla tube or slightly protruding.

The oblong fruit measures 1-1.5 centimeters in length and about 6 millimeters in width, with a convex tip and less noticeable lenticels. The flowering season is from May to June, with fruiting in September.

II. Origin and Habitat

The Villosa Lilac flourishes on mountain slopes, in shrub thickets, beside ditches, and near rivers at elevations between 1,200 to 2,200 meters.

III. Propagation Methods

Seed Collection and Preparation

Seeds should be harvested when the fruits are ripe but before they fall off. After harvesting, seeds are air-dried in a well-ventilated area, then threshed.

The collected seeds are cleaned by winnowing and sieving to remove impurities such as sand and stones, ensuring a seed purity of over 95%.

Seed Stratification

At the end of October, seeds are treated for 30 minutes with a potassium permanganate solution at a concentration of 1‰, then rinsed thoroughly with water, and soaked for 48 hours.

The seeds are then mixed with river sand at a ratio of 3:1, placed into cloth bags, and buried in wooden boxes at a depth of 50-60 centimeters for approximately 180 days, from the end of October to the end of April the following year.

Sowing

Seeds are sown in ridges, either in single or double rows, during spring when the soil temperature at a depth of 5 centimeters reaches 8°C. The spacing between double rows should be 5-8 centimeters.

The target density is typically 50-70 plants per square meter, with a seeding rate of 120-150 seeds per square meter to ensure an emergence of 60-75 seedlings per square meter.

The soil from the ridges can be used to cover the seeds, or alternatively, organic fertilizer, humus, or well-rotted sawdust may be used. A covering thickness of 0.4-0.6 centimeters is ideal, as too much soil can be detrimental.

IV. Cultivation Techniques

Water Management

During germination and seedling establishment, ecological watering is preferred, following the principle of “little and often”; watering 3-4 times a day to maintain soil moisture.

During vigorous growth stages, physiological watering takes precedence, following the principle of “more but less often”; watering 1-2 times a day.

Nutrient Management

Fertilization should be adjusted according to the different growth stages of the seedlings. Initially, nitrogen-based fertilizers are recommended; in the middle stage, phosphorus-based; and in the later stage, potassium-based.

Fertilizing should start when lateral roots appear on the seedlings and stop applying nitrogen during the rapid growth phase. When applying foliar fertilization, control the concentration of fertilizer below 1% and rinse the seedlings with clean water promptly.

When applying fertilizer into soil trenches, ensure it does not come into direct contact with the seedling roots and water thoroughly afterward.

Weeding and Soil Loosening

Keep the nursery free of weeds, typically without chemical herbicides. Weeding and soil loosening help maintain a loose soil structure.

These tasks should be done promptly after rain or watering. Also, remove any diseased, dead, or discarded seedlings to improve manual labor efficiency.

Density Control

The standard nursery density is 50-70 plants per square meter. If the number of newly emerged seedlings exceeds the intended density, thinning should be carried out promptly.

The principle of thinning should be “remove the weak, keep the strong” to ensure an even distribution. Thinning is ideally done on overcast days in early to mid-June, followed by watering to ensure the healthy growth of the seedlings.

V. Main Value

Landscape

The robust growth and dense branches of the Red Lilac, topped with large, vibrant cone-shaped flower clusters, provide stunning and fragrant blooms with a strong resistance to diseases and pests.

This plant is highly effective at absorbing atmospheric pollutants such as dust, hydrogen fluoride, and sulfur dioxide, making it an excellent choice for street trees, greening, and beautification in northwest Chinese cities.

It is also ideal for courtyard planting or grouping on lawns for an enhanced effect.

Medicinal

The flowers of the Red Lilac can be used to extract eugenol, which has anti-inflammatory properties and is used in dentistry for its antiseptic and analgesic effects.

Eugenol stimulates the cerebral cortex, which can help regulate mood, invigorate the spirit, and promote health, making it an excellent raw material for health care.

Its antibacterial potency is more than five times stronger than that of phenol, providing some inhibition against pneumococcus and influenza bacteria.

Additionally, the roots and stems of the lilac, known as “agalloch” in Tibetan medicine, are used to clear heat from the heart and treat headaches, forgetfulness, insomnia, chronic bronchitis, coughs, phlegm, and asthma.

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