The Longenecker Horticultural Gardens Lilac Collection

Lilacs blooming

Lilacs blooming in Longenecker Horticultural Gardens (Photo: Molly Fifield Murray)

The Longenecker Horticultural Gardens lilac collection dates to the Gardens’ inception in 1935 and remains one of the largest collections in North America. While numerous specimens date back to the 1935 planting, additional taxa have been added almost yearly, increasing the collection’s diversity and keeping it contemporary while also preserving its living history.

In 2022, 11 new lilac taxa were acquired. In spring 2022, Josh Miller, the International Lilac Society (ILS) Preservation Committee chair, asked a question that helped shed light on the uniqueness of the Longenecker collection and its value as a genetic resource. The ILS was seeking an exceedingly rare Ukrainian-bred lilac cultivar, ‘Taras Bul’ba’. We shared our inventory records and learned that we are one of only two public collections in the country to have the cultivar. We also discovered that we have 30 other lilac taxa deemed by the ILS as “high merit” and endangered; in one case we have the only remaining specimen known to exist. We are now working with the ILS Preservation Committee and partner public gardens to help recover these unique taxa and remove them from the endangered list. We also hope to become the caretakers of other “high merit” and endangered lilacs through this program.

Ukrainian History Blooming in LHG

‘Taras Bul’ba’ (‘Тарас Бульба’) is a Ukrainian-bred common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) cultivar released in 1956 by the Central Botanical Garden in Kyiv, Ukraine. It was named for the hero in the novel Taras Bul’ba, written by Ukrainian author Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol and first published in 1835. The story tells an epic tale of the lives of Cossack warriors and has been the basis of an opera as well as a symphonic rhapsody for orchestra. It has also been adapted for movies at least eight times, including a 1962 American version starring Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis. The name is also famous in Ukraine as the assumed name of national hero Taras Dmytrovych Borovets (Тарас Дмитрович Борове́ць), a Ukrainian resistance leader during World War II.

Blooms of common lilac ‘Taras Bu’lba’ cultivar (Photo: David Stevens)

The arboretum is fortunate to have three specimens of this unique lilac in Longenecker. The plants are noted for their very large lilac-colored panicle inflorescences, which become light pink to almost white when open. The inflorescences are distinctive for their flower form, sporting large double florets in what is called a hose-in-hose arrangement, in which one set of fused petals appears to be within another set of fused petals. Florets also display a unique attribute of staminode petals in which the reproductive stamens have become petaloid and appear as additional petals emerging from the hose-in-hose floret, giving it an exceptional convoluted beauty.

—David Stevens, Ed Hasselkus curator, Longenecker Horticultural Gardens