February 19, 2019

The French-Canadian Connection

Syringa x. hyacinthiflora 'Royal Purple'

Janine Pineo Photo | Syringa x. hyacinthiflora 'Royal Purple'

Sometimes when one looks at a flower and inhales its intoxicating perfume, one has no idea the journey that plant has been on through the centuries to that moment in time. Syringa × hyacinthiflora ‘Royal Purple’ is one such plant. At first glance, it is a lilac, with deep purple flowers and that unique scent that warms the air. Its blossoms were just emerging on May 12, 2012, at the Lyle E. Littlefield Ornamental Trial Garden in Orono. That seemed a tad early for a lilac, but that’s because it was bred for it. Originally a cross between S. oblata and S. vulgaris, S. x. hyacinthiflora was bred by Victor Lemoine in France in 1976. That hybrid was ‘Plena’ with its double flowers in light violet. This was the start of the French lilacs. Then came Frank Skinner from a nursery in Manitoba who worked to breed plants suited for extreme climates. His lilacs include ‘Pocahontas’ and ‘Maiden’s Blush,’ and they became known as the Canadian Hybrid Cultivars. In 1965, he introduced ‘Royal Purple’ introduced with its double, dark purple flowers. It is hardy to Zone 2 or 3, probably a south-facing protected exposure for Zone 2, and will reach 12 to 15 feet in height over the years. And just what does hyacinthiflora mean? It was given by Lemoine to the lilac he hybridized because the flowers resemble miniature hyacinth blossoms.