Nature on our doorsteps: Scented Lilacs in May

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

Lilacs are in full bloom in mid-May.  These bushes are native to the rocky hillsides of the Balkans region of south eastern Europe.

They were first brought to Europe in the 16th Century, but it was in the 19th Century that they were bred intensely to produce over 200 varieties.

Posies of Lilac flowers allow us to bring its memorable fragrance indoors. 1

Posies of Lilac flowers allow us to bring its memorable fragrance indoors

Apart from their beautiful large spikes of lilac, pink, or white flowers, it is Lilac’s fragrance that is most memorable.

For some people, this scent is an instant trigger for nostalgic memories of sunny childhood days in early summer. 

Lilacs were the height of fashion during the Victorian and Edwardian periods and were planted widely for their colour and fragrance.

For this reason, they are still to be found surviving today in old hedgerows or in long-established or neglected gardens.    

Although seen by some as an old fashioned plant Lilac is still popular today 1

Although seen by some as an 'old-fashioned' plant Lilac is still popular today

The plant’s Latin name is Syringa, which comes from the old Greek word ‘syrinx’ meaning a hollow tube or pipe.  Lilac stems are hollow, just like pipes or reeds.

In Greek mythology, Syrinx was a beautiful woodland nymph who hid away in the reeds to escape from the god Pan. Pan then made music pipes from the reeds as a way of keeping her with him for all time. 

Lilacs’ fragrance is most intense at twilight or in the early morning, suggesting that moths are its primary pollinators.

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