Originally uploaded by Nancy Hawkins
Common purple lilac was one of the plants most commonly brought from the "Old Country" by homesick settlers and planted around their homes in the New World. Apart from the beauty and fragrance of the flowers in spring, this plant also had a practical use – its dense shrubbery helped shelter a prairie home from wind. Common purple lilac bushes can still be seen thriving near abandoned pioneer homesteads. In the city or the country, the lilac hedge is a favourite place for birds because the dense foliage provides good nesting and hiding habitat. A strong lilac branch is a good place for your bird feeder!
The Latin name for lilac, Syringa, originates from the Greek "syrinx", meaning "hollow stem" or "pipe." One of the first common names for Syringa vulgaris in English was "pipe tree," because the straight stems made excellent pipes. The stem was used by ancient Greek doctors to inject medications into their patients. Syrinx also appears in Greek legend as a nymph pursued by the god Pan and eventually turned into a hollow reed from which he made his first flute or pan-pipe. At one time, Syringa was the name used for what we now call Mock Orange (Philadelphus); this name is still common in parts of the United States.