Ivory Silk Tree Lilac - A Great Small Tree

Ivory Silk Tree Lilac in landscape - Johnsen Landscapes & Pools photo- Jan Johnsen

Years ago I moved to Northern Vermont  (Montpelier) and worked as a landscape designer for a design / build firm there. 

 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 suited to 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. 

There are also a few other related ones to consider:

 '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.


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  2. I planted this lovely tree a few years ago and enjoy it enormously. You might want to mention that it blooms every other year. That was a surprise to me... but the year with blooms is spectacular enough to make up for the year without.

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