An Overview of Lilac Colors

There are a wide range of colors in lilacs, making it difficult to classify some cultivars (there are over 2000) into a specified color.

The color of the lilac changes daily as it opens, many with the florets having a different shade on the underside, and just the way we see color scientifically, makes it impossible sometimes to call the right color.

To help simplify and categorize lilac colors, we have the Wister Code -- a general, seven color class code developed by John Wister, Horticulturist, Landscape Architect, and founder of the International Lilac Society. The code is not used to identify or describe a lilac cultivar.

CLASS I WHITE - Syringa vulgaris, “Krasavita Moskvy” (Beauty of Moscow), 1947 Leonid Kolesnikov

Double white, one of the finest lilacs ever. Buds are pinkish. Lilac opening to a light lavender tint on white. Very fragrant and showy-excellent in every way. Although mostly white, could stand in a class by itself.

CLASS II VIOLET - s.xhyachinthaflora, “Pocahontas”, 1935 Frank Skinner

Single purple/violet (classified as violet). Excellent early blooming hybrid.

CLASS III BLUE - Syringa vulgaris, “President Grevy”, 1886 Pierre Victor Lemoine

Double blue, purple buds open to large starry florets of blue. One of Lemoine's finest and one of the best still today.

CLASS IV LILAC OR LAVENDER - Syringa x hyacinthaflora, “Excel”, 1932 Frank Skinner

Early blooming hybrid, purple buds open to lilac colored flowers. Hard to find cultivars in this category, as many are in private collections. The common lilac still rules as queen in this color selection.

CLASS V PINK - Syringa meyeri, “Palibin”, Pre-1920 Origin Unknown

Single pink, fragrant. purple buds open to lavender/pink flowers. Has dark green, small, leathery looking leaves. The most dwarfed of all lilacs, reaching four feet, maybe five if left unpruned.

CLASS VI MAGENTA - Syringa vulgaris, “Paul Thirion”, 1915 Victor Lemoine

Double deep reddish pink, fragrant, and showy. One of my favorites.

CLASS VII PURPLE - Syringa vulgaris, “Andeken an Ludwig Spath”, 1883 Spaeth Nurseries

Known as Ludwig Spaeth in North America. Single deep purple, vigorous grower. Still a great purple color standout today.

Syringa x chinensis, “Chinese lilac”, common name “French Rouen lilac”

A natural hybrid of s. vulgaris and s. protolaciniata (presumed.) It is not really from China, but thought to be from the botanical gardens at Rouen, France. Large, rounded, upright bush of massive pink flowers.

Syringa x hyacinthaflora “Lavender Lady” 1953 Walter Lammerts

Single pale-purple. Not known for best purple or fragrance, but for its ability to grow in a warm winter environment. Lilacs need a dormant winter chilling to set the past summers buds for the upcoming spring bloom. ”Lavender Lady” was developed in California, where this is not possible. Lammerts received a plant patent for this selection, and made It possible for other nurserymen to develop cultivars for mild winter climates.

Syringa vulgaris, “General Sherman”, 1917 John Dunbar

Lavender buds open to a pearled pale pink/lavender, turning to a creamy lavender. One of John’s finest selections, an outstanding cultivar still today, it’s a must have for the garden. Dunbar is credited with making Highland Park in Rochester, N.Y. famous for it’s lilacs. His planting of over 100 seedlings in 1891 has made Highland Park the largest lilac festival in North America.

Lilacs with Special Color and Qualities

The following three lilacs are all sports (mutations) of the mother plant. Mutations are a spontaneous change in the plant's hereditary makeup, either in the plant's genes or chromosomes, occurring in the germ or somatic cells.

Syringa vulgaris, “Primrose”, 1950 Gerrit Maarse, Holland

Single, creamy yellow, the only lilac of this color, it was originally called “Yellow Wonder. Discovered in 1943 in Maarse’s hothouse while forcing lilacs for the cut flower market. Primrose is a sport of Marie Legraye, a single white dating back to 1879.

​Syringa vulgaris, “Sensation”, 1938 Dirk Eveleens Maarse, Holland

Single deep purple with white margins, a sensation indeed! A sport of “Hugo de Vries”, “Sensation" is a periclinal chimera, having two genetically different types of cells. The outer  epidermal cells completely surrounding the inner cells, affecting variegation. “Sensation” is a unique cultivar – variegated, ​bi-colored, and fragrant.

​Syringa vulgaris, “Aucubaefolia”, 1919 Auguste Gouchault

Double blue with gold leaf variegation, a sport of “President Grevy”.