Lilac bushes

One sure sign of spring in Montana is when lilac bushes bloom. Depending on where you live, that may start in May or be as late as June.

Traveling from warm parts of the state to cooler places, you may notice that long after lilacs have bloomed in a warm spot, they are just budding out in a colder location.

Lilacs are a hardy plant that were native to the Balkans in Eastern Europe. Because they smell so good and produce such beautiful flowers, gardeners spread the plants across the rest of Europe in the late 1500s. By the 1650s the plants had traveled over the Atlantic Ocean to the new colonies in North America.

Once the plants became popular, humans created different breeds of lilac. Now you can find more than 500 different varieties with flowers that are white, pink, purple and blue.

Lilacs like to be planted in sunny areas, and on sunny days the smell of their flowers is strongest. An old lilac can grow to 10 feet tall.

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Recently while driving around different parts of Montana I noticed that lilac bushes would be in full bloom next to old homes, or where old homes used to be. Because the plants are able to withstand cold winters, don’t need much water or tending and produce beautiful flowers, they were a popular plant with settlers in the West, as well as many other areas. So when you find a lilac bush alone, it may be a sign that a home was once in that field.

Some of the plants may live 100 years or more, which is why the lilacs are still growing but the people are sometimes gone.

Lilacs are related to olive trees. They can spread by sending out smaller trees from their roots, called suckers, or new bushes may grow from the seeds the plants produce.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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