Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Southern Substitute for Lilac

On this site I've flaunted some of the Southern plants that Northerners are unable to grow, but the tables can be turned. Lilacs are one of the plants that I envy. They absolutely will not grow where I live, but smell wonderful and are easy up north. Here's a picture of a lilac in my mother-in-law's yard. (Also note the nice redbud in the background. We can grow redbuds down here!)

There are several shrubs/trees that we can use as possible substitutes for lilacs. I have seen crape myrtles touted as the Southern lilac. They start blooming in June and put on a spectacle for the next month or so. Here's a picture of mine. I don't know which variety this is, but it looks nice growing in my front yard. As much as I love crape myrtles though, they don't seem like a lilac sub to me because they have no smell, which is one of the most notable traits of lilacs.

Buddleias, which are better known as butterfly bushes, can also be something of a substitute for lilacs. They have similar-looking panicles of flowers which smell very sweet. This is the only picture I have of my Royal Red buddleia. These fellows are great here in the South. They are a must have for attracting butterflies. There are many colors to choose from. They are also easy and grow just about anywhere in the United States. In the South, they get big enough to be small trees. Deadhead the blooms when they fade and you get a second flush.

There is one other candidate for a lilac substitute down here, and that would be the vitex or chaste tree. I just got one of these late last year and have no pictures yet. You can look it up on Floridata or Google to see what it looks like. It's another old favorite that is not seen often anymore. Vitex comes in colors blue, purple, and white. Blue is its best color. It has a nice fragrance, gets to be a small tree about the size of a crape myrtle, and will also rebloom if deadheaded. I would import some pictures of it, but I'm worried about copyright infringement. Just trust me, vitex is a very worthy Southern plant. It's said to be hardy to zone 7. One other great thing about the vitex is that it's very drought tolerant. Check it out and try it. By the way, if anyone reading this has a picture of their vitex tree, I'd love to get a copy to post.

PS - Thanks to another blogger for sending me this picture of a vitex tree to include. Check out his web page at


WiseAcre said...

Sorry there's no substitute for a Lilac. But then there's nothing to replace the crape myrtles I'd love to grow. Maybe we should just go fishing and forget our shrub wish list :)

Phillip said...

I love the chaste tree. I have a photo that I took last year. Not the greatest, but you are welcome to use it.

Davy Barr said...

Thanks for the use of your picture, Phillip. It looks plenty good enough to get the point across. I'll put it in the blog entry now.

Sweet sad rose said...

yes, lilacs are one of my favourite spring trees. They need a little bit of shadow and despise hot weather.

NellJean said...

My father's favorite flower was the lilac. We had huge lilac bushes in north GA.

I content myself with crape myrtles and vitex. Crapes do have a slight fragrance, but not a memorable one.

I've tried vitex cut back to the ground as TAMU advocates -- they grow right back -- and I prefer them as limbed up trees. Butterflies love them, however they're pruned.

Davy Barr said...

I've planted my vitex in a place where it will be a single specimen in the middle of what will be a butterfly attracting bed. I want it to eventually be a small tree with perennial butterfly attractors surrounding it.