The fabulous Japanese Tree Lilac - 'Ivory Silk' and others

from USDA National resources conservations service 

Years ago I moved to Northern Vermont  (Montpelier) and worked as a landscape designer for a design / build firm there.  I soon discovered that my 'plant palette' was greatly altered due to the colder climate. I had to learn about cold hardy plants - and fast!

One of my favorite cold hardy discoveries that has remained a favorite of mine is the ornamental tree,  'Ivory Silk' Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata "Ivory Silk" ). 

This small flowering tree, which grows no taller than 25 feet, was selected by Sheridan Nursery of Ontario, Canada in 1975 as a compact cultivar of Japanese Tree Lilac. It needs full sun and is hardy to USDA Zone 3!

I love 'Ivory Silk' because it flowers later than other flowering trees and has spectacular creamy white, fragrant flowers borne in abundance in 6" - 12" long clusters. In my part of the world it blooms from June to July.  The fragrance is similar to a common lilac.


I also admire its lovely upright oval form. This is quite different from the spreading habits of the other small flowering trees such as dogwoods, cherries, magnolias and crabapples.

The leaves are fairly large and dense. It has no disease or insect problems and is adaptable to a wide range of soils and exposures. Ivory Silk can be used as a patio tree, lawn specimen or even as a small street tree. 

Since they tolerate a wide range of conditions, they are great in urban areas, including as parking lot or boulevard plantings.

'Ivory Silk' Japanese Tree Lilac won the Cary Award in 2000 for outstanding plant for New England gardens. But there are also a few others to consider as well:

 'Chantilly Lace' - A form with variegated foliage, the leaves of this plant feature a pale creamy yellow perimeter. 

 'Cameo Jewel' - is a variegated form with yellow-cream splashed foliage.  'China Gold', and 'Golden Eclipse' all offer variously gold-margined or gold-spotted young foliage, which usually matures to a muted green.

 'Summer Snow' - A more compact, rounded tree, this form reaches 20' tall with large flower panicles. Its toughness and small size may make the plant a good street tree.  It came from Schichtels' Nursery near Buffalo, NY.

 'Morton' - trademarked as 'China Snow' is from the Chicagoland Grows Program and is noted for its tolerance of drought, extreme cold, and de-icing salts, combined with its narrow habit, and attractive, cherry-like bark.

and Summer Charm® Tree Lilac (Syringa pekinensis ‘DTR’ 124) which bears profuse white blooms similar to those of Ivory Silk Japanese Tree Lilac. However, its lustrous dark green foliage is finer textured than that of ‘Ivory Silk’ and has a more rounded, relaxed form. Hardiness is USDA Zone 3.


  1. The Ivory Silk looks really nice, I wonder how it would fair in South Carolina? We moved here from upstate New York where the regular lilacs grew all over and we absolutely love them. But here in SC. we never see that variety. But,my daughters found one genetically altered to grow here and got us one. But these, like the ones from NY bloom early spring. It would be nice to have an Ivory Silk in the yard if it bloomed later.

  2. Hi Bert! I have my doubts...they like a cold why don't you fall in love with Crape Myrtles? They are glorious and we can't grow them up north. "If you can't be with th3 one you love then love the one you're with" :-)

  3. Where does one find the variegated varieties? I've have a "Golden Eclipse" which tools me years to find but the variegation fades too quickly.

  4. I cannot find where to get chantilly lace...I tried. sorry.

  5. Does it make a mess when the flowers fall?

    1. not that I remember....will check this year...

  6. Have two on the patio. Gorgeous! Wondering how to trim the panicles to better the next year's flowering? Also, what's the best way to prune the tree since one has become leggy. No mess after flowering here. They just float away on the breeze.

  7. Thank you so much for the information! I have always admired the foliage/flowers on these trees. I had never been close enough to one to notice its fragrance. Love that has a sweet smell as well as a lovely appearance! I recently purchased a home and had a Bradford Pear tree removed that was too close to the house by the front corner when facing from the street. I now have a large gaping hole, and need to fill it with something special. The house is a two-story, but I want to keep the tree close, because the bed is surrounded by a paver wall. I was wondering if I could trouble you to ask if this lilac variety would be appropriate in a space like this? Any information you can provide is greatly appreciated. Thanks, again!

    1. I have a similar situation with a space near the corner of our house that I would like to fill with a small tree. The path to our front door wraps around this corner so the tree needs to look nice all year. I'm in zone 5 in MA. Any advice you have would be appreciated.


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