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Lilac Breeding

The French and the Russians bred many of the famous lilacs grown today.

Detail from “Lilacs” (c. 1905-1915), by Russian photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (1863–1944).

The French and the Russians bred many of the famous lilacs grown today.

(A large number of Russian lilacs can be seen in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Hamilton, Ontario.)

There are a great many lilacs growing in gardens in North America, even though none are native to this continent. English, French, and Dutch settlers brought them here, and as early as 1652 they had become widespread in gardens in North America.

There have been breeding programs here for many years also. James and John Dougall emigrated from Scotland to Ontario in 1826, and James named many open pollinated seedlings of lilacs from stock imported from Europe.

John Dunbar also emigrated from Scotland and became Superintendent of Parks in Rochester, New York. He also bred lilacs and originated lilac festivals in Rochester.

Dunbar was the breeder of the cultivar ‘General Sherman’ that has dark lavender blooms that open to a lighter shade.

Although lilacs are beautiful, an important part of their appeal, undoubtedly, is their unforgettable fragrance.

Although non-native, they are a benign and much-loved import to this continent, and they have settled in so well and been so well behaved that we feel as if they have always been rooted in our soil.

Reference: Visions of Loveliness: Great flower breeders of the past by Judith M. Taylor, (Swallow Press, an imprint of Ohio University Press, 2014).

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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