Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Not an ash, not an elderberry... but a pinnate leaved lilac

I always love plants in disguise, the ones that aren't easily recognized; I guess a bit of challenge adds flavor to anything one pursues. The plant above is one of them; when asked what it was during last Saturday's plant walk at the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden, I thought it was some kind of a dwarf ash or maybe an elderberry, but I would never have got it right. It was actually a very rare lilac called Syringa pinnatifolia, the only lilac species with pinnate leaves.

Syringa pinnatifolia was collected by the famous plant hunter E.H.Wilson at the elevation of 9000 feet (2700 meters) on the mountains of west China in 1907. Already Wilson reported it to be quite rare, and it has been listed as endangered species in China since 1989; only very few plants have been found living in its original habitat. Coming from the high altitudes, it tolerates cold winters and harsh climates well, and blooms with small panicles of highly fragrant lilac blooms in the spring.

Today, the pinnate leaved lilac grows mainly in botanical gardens and arboretums like the Kruckeberg's. It is available only from very few specialist nurseries and has never become a commercial success. The only reason for this must be that it is difficult to propagate, as while definitely not showy, a fully hardy lilac with fresh and delicate leaves and highly scented, white blooms should be covetable for many gardeners. I at least would love to have one; it is always fun to have this kind of "I would never have guessed" -plants to puzzle other plant geeks with, and there can never be too many fragrant, white shrubs in a garden.

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