Plant of the Week: Cutleaf Lilac

The High Line's planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line's rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share one of our gardeners' current favorites with you.

Syringa x laciniata, the cutleaf lilac, is thought to have been hybridized in southwestern Asia in the 17th century. It is a cross between the common lilac and a parent of the Persian variety, Syringa x persica. Its deeply-lobed leaves give it an airy, open look, and its stunning purple panicles are a sight to behold. On a breezy day in mid-spring, the fragrance carries for blocks. Cutleaf lilac flowers appear a bit later in the season than those of the common lilac, ensuring an extended bloom time if planted together. Later in the season, the foliage and branch structure provide notable ornamental value on their own.

Though it loves full sun, if left to its own devices, this shrub will spread to six feet wide and eight feet tall and provide sweetly-scented shade for humans and animals alike. Like many drought-tolerant plants, the cutleaf lilac is fire-retardant, making it a great choice for border and foundation plantings in wildfire-prone regions. It's also the ideal plant for wildlife: deer-resistant, but pure bliss to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Their attractiveness to pollinators and their sublime scent make cutleaf lilacs an excellent choice for companion plantings and cutting gardens.

The lilac has always been prized for its fragrance, and while you'll find most lilac products sold in stores to be scented synthetically, the essence and the beautiful purple color can be extracted and stored for many uses. Historically, lilac has been used for aromatherapy; as an astringent toner and fever reducer; and, in some cultures, as protection against unwanted spirits. The flowers, though bitter, are edible; popular recipes include lilac wine (which Jeff Buckley described as "intoxicating" in his song of the same name), honey, and infused syrup. A member of the olive family, the lilac's wood is some of the densest in Europe, and has been used to make pipes, flutes, and tool handles.

Planting tip: The cutleaf lilac is at its most floriferous and least leggy in full sun exposure. Likes slightly acidic, moderately moist soil. A chilly winter dormancy is preferable. To propagate the cutleaf lilac, take cuttings or layer in early summer.


On the High Line between 21st and 22nd Streets.

Download our May bloom list.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line's most important gardening projects – become a member of the High Line today!

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