The Peking Lilac (Syringa reticulata subp. pekinensis) is a relatively unknown kid on the block here in North Carolina. It was introduced to the United States from China in 1881 and has quietly been making itself known over the years. It is a vigorous small tree, reaching only 20 feet or so, with an arching open habit. At maturity it will be as wide as it is tall. The creamy white flowers look like lilacs on steroids, sometimes reaching 12 inches long. They are sweetly fragrant. “Beijing Gold” has primrose yellow flowers which age to cream. It blooms well after the flowering cherries but before most crapemyrtles, filling in a gap between those two Southern standards. Fall color is a nice warm copper to gold.
The bark is very attractive as well. It resembles some cherry cultivars with warm brown tones and showy lenticels (little dots on the bark). With age it will peel with pretty curls and flakes.
This species is quite tolerant of our summer heat and humidity. It likes well drained acid soil and, while it tolerates full sun, it wouldn’t mind some shade form the heat of the day. A specimen has been growing at the JC Raulston Arboretum for some years now.
Consider adding this charming small tree to your landscape and be prepared for the oohs and aahs that will follow.