Undecided if growing lavender or lilac? Perhaps you have encountered a great plant outdoors (or in a shopping mall), and you do not know whether it is one of the two? Let’s dive into the differences so you can understand which one is which and what should you choose in case you want to add one of them to your collection.
What are the differences between Lavender and Lilac? Lavender and lilac belongs to two different families and so, present substantial differences in:
- Appearance: size and flowers are quite in size and color
- Taste, culinary use, and scent: one is slightly bitter but with a very strong scent
- Lifespan: one can last many decades
Both are capable of a mesmerizing spring display, but which one is the best for your garden? Let’s have a look!
The only things lavender and lilac have in common is their stunning flowering display in spring. That’s it. For everything else, they are different.
Lavender (also known as Lavandula by botanists) is a shrub (similar to herbs, but larger) that belongs to the Lamiaceae family, making it a close cousin to mint.
Lilac is a small tree of the Oleaceae family that makes it a close cousin of olive trees (yes, the same from which that tasty vegetable oil is produced). The one you want to look at is the Syringa variety as it produces quite stunning flowers.
Lavender is the type of plant (a shrub) that you can successfully grow in containers (even all year round as I do) or outdoors on the ground (although it might die back during winter). It needs to be pruned regularly (to promote new growth) and to keep it of a reasonable size for indoor size. But this is totally doable.
Lilac is extremely hard/impossible to grow indoors in the long term. Even outdoors in a pot is quite a challenge. Indeed, due to its size, it might suffer from root bound (more in this article). You can have a chance only in the first 1-2 years. If you are curious, check this potted lilac on Amazon. They are quite cheap, and many gardeners have found them quite stubborn and resistant.
Here the exception
Lilac also exists in dwarf varieties that can be easily grown in a pot. You can then have the beautiful colorful display of a (big) lilac within a potted size plant. Check it on Amazon if you are curious. They are actually quite cheap.
Besides having beautiful flowers, lilac and lavender have many differences.
Lavender is a bush that can reach a height that varies between 10 and 23 inches (27 to 60cm) depending on the variety, as reported in this detailed analysis of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture. Its shape is more or less spherical, but it can vary when it grows.
My lavender is 4 years old, although a few friends have lavender growing for 10 years! However, this can happen only in case of regular pruning, plenty of light, and well-drained soil.
Lilac, on the other hand, is a tree. Hence, it will grow, depending on the variety, up to 10m! Yes, quite large. However, lilac, as mentioned before, exists also in dwarf varieties, pretty popular among gardeners.
More precisely, such a type of lilac (also called lilac bush) can be as short as 5 feet when fully grown (1.5m), such as the bloomerang variety. Hence, even if tight in space, it can be fit indoors within a pot.
Lavender is a shrub. Hence, from one single plant, you will have many stems coming out from the soil (not like herbs, where one stem per plant). These stems are woody at first, but then more and more tender.
Lilac, on the other hand, it can grow either as a big shrub (like lavender) or a small tree. In any case, its branches (if it is not young) are way thicker and “woodier” than the lavender counterpart.
Lavender grows “needle” like leaves that resemble the rosemary ones very closely. Lavender leaves have different colors depending on the varieties, from dark green to almost grey/silvery. Leaves can be either toothed or smoothed borders. They are usually 0.4 inches (1cm) long.
Lilac leaves are oval-shaped with a pointed end (with a resemblance to a heart). They are usually dark green in color and up to 4.3 inches (11cm) long, depending on the variety.
They both bloom in spring. Lilac blooms quite early in the season, earlier than the majority of lavender (here for more details).
Lavender flowers are at the top and thin, flexible green/grey stems. They are quite small and arranged across the surface of a tubular structure that can reach up to 10cm (Buena Vista variety) that might have on top (depending on the variety) two rabbit-hears shaped petals.
Lavender flowers vary in color from pink to deep purple. A few varieties have white or pale red flowers.
Lilac flowers are individually still small, although way larger than individual lavender flowers. They are arranged in a conical structure up to a dozen centimeters long and around 6cm wide at the base. It is way larger than a lavender flower. The flowers commonly have 4 petals, although a few varieties with five can be found.
Lilac flowers have a larger variety of colors than lavender. You can indeed white, violet, pink, dark purple (Donald Wyman), red and even mesmerizing blue lilac flowers (President Lincoln variety, yeah crazy names).
Also, if you are into flowers, some lilacs might have two colored petals (pink at the center of the petals, and white at the border).
Both lavender and lilac are edible despite some differences on which part you can use for culinary purposes. How do they taste?
Lavender leaves and flowers can be eaten, either dry and fresh. Lavender is used as a culinary herb, although nothing close to the use of rosemary, basil, or other culinary herbs.
Remember, if you are planning to eat your lavender, make sure that it is the English variety (also called Lavandula Angustifolia). This is by far the more suitable (and the one everyone is talking about) for cooking.
Lavender flowers and buds are less bitter than the leaves. They taste quite strong with a citrus note (although less bitter), although its scent is gentle. Some mention a cross taste between rosemary and thyme with subtle notes of wood and fruit.
Raw lavender (especially its buds) is often used in summer salad due to its milder flavor compared to its dried counterpart.
Lavender is also quite common for cakes, for dying, bread, syrups, and even ice cream and tea. One of the most intriguing sweet recipes I need to try (using, quite uncommon, raw lavender leaves) is the one below.
Most of the time, for cakes, I noticed people using dry lavender or in its oil form.
Lilac is way less popular in the kitchen than lavender as it is mainly an aesthetic plant.
Lilac flowers are the only edible part, as also stated by Colorado State University, in case you were unsure. Lilac flowers have a slightly bitter taste with a citrus note.
Lilac has a mesmerizing sweet scent with a reminisce of vanilla and even rose for some. The same also applies for lilac bush. On a positive side, when it blooms, its smell is so strong that it can fill the surrounding air on a slightly windy day. If you have a blooming lilac shrub in a (large hopefully) pot, it can easily permeate the whole room when it blooms.
Despite I never personally eaten lilac flowers, others that did it, mainly use it in salads (as lavender) and syrup (a great addition to crepes!) or a simple flower infusion.
For more use on lilac in your kitchen, check the Ashely blog.
Lavender and lilac have a quite different life span.
Lavender typically lasts 3-4 years with some friends of mine even able to keep it with regular and meticulous pruning, protecting from frost, for up to 10. However, this is quite uncommon.
Lilac, on the other hand, can last up to a century. Some gardeners I spoke with have t maintained them for over 20+ years (in their large outdoor garden) and still counting with no issues.
Even if you use a lilac bush and you grow them indoors (at least until it gets too big), I would not recommend planting those two plants in the same pot. Mainly for space requirements.
Indeed, lilac is quite space-demanding (its roots develop quite a bit in length) outcompeting the lavender. Moreover, given that even lilac shrubs get taller than most of the lavender, they will take them out of the precious sun.
Finally, lilac is stronger than lavender. It can withstand up to -15C while lavender will not handle frost condition.
Lavender and lilac are also the names of two different colors. Both of these names were used first (for a long time) to identify the plants we talked about so far and only recently (around a century or less) to indicate the color.
Both lavender and lilac colors are on the pink/purple tone. Lavender is way deeper (close to purple) than lilac that is indeed closer to pink. However, this is not always true as there are many varieties for both colors (and some of them change quite a bit).
The most famous are “lavender web” and “lavender floral” (although there are many more). The same applies to lilac. You can have a pale, bright, rich lilac tone. Check them below how they do compare with Lilac.
Lavender and lilac, in recent years, are more and more used also as wedding dresses for both women and men. However, lilac, with its more gentle tone, is more common and used as a valid alternative to the classic white.
Lavender is a great shrub that can produce a great (and size contained compared to lilac) flowery display. However, what if spring arrives and your lavender just produces lots of shoots with no flowers? Why does this happen? I get your frustration, and I have been there. The good news is that most of the time, you just need to wait.
For more check the article below.
What is the most fragrant lilac? Among the 1000+ varieties of lilac, one of the most fragrant is the Syringa Pubescens. This lilac is also famous for its resistance to diseases such as powdery mildew.
Why does your lilac not smell? The fragrance of lilac is highly dependent on the temperature and varieties (in most of cases). In cold temperatures or wet soil, lilacs do not smell much. Moreover, some varieties are known to have just a mild scent that can be hard to perceive if not very close to the plant.
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