Bloomerang Lilac Starts a Controversy

Who would have thought that Bloomerang® Purple Lilac (Syringa ‘Penda’ ppaf) would create such a controversy? First Slate magazine comes out with an article entitled “Gilding the Lilac: A new hybrid could kill the nostalgia...” and then MaCleans Magazine follows up with an Internet article titled the “Ever-blooming Lilac Wars.” It seems that some people feel a lilac should bloom only once and only in the spring. I disagree and so do the thousands of people that rushed to buy Bloomerang when Better Homes and Gardens magazine did a limited release in March of 2009. Expecting to sell just a thousand plants, BH&G sold over 11,000 plants and turned away a throng of disappointed, potential buyers.

Bloomerang Lilac is not the first reblooming lilac. In 1917 Charles Sargent of the Arnold Arboretum noted that Syringa microphylla (S. pubescens subsp. microphylla var. microphylla) “… if it keeps up its habit of flowering a second time in autumn it will be at least interesting even if other lilacs are more beautiful. In her 1928 book “Lilacs” Susan McKelvey noted that S. microphylla has “… the curious habit of blooming twice in one season.” Syringa ‘Josee’ (syn. MORjos 06F) a small leafed, pale pink flowered cultivar introduced in 1974 by Minier Nursery of France is another noted remontant lilac. ‘Josee’ is a complex cross (Syringa pubescens subsp. microphylla x Syringa pubescens subsp. patula (syn S. velutina) x Syringa meyeri subsp. meyeri) developed by Georges Morel. More recently, Frank and Sara Moro of Select Plus International Nurseries of Quebec, Canada introduced several reblooming cultivars. So why all the fuss about Bloomerang lilac?

There are a number of things that have put Bloomerang in the spotlight. From my observations, (and a good many of the 400 garden writers that trialed the plant) it is the most consistent and prolific remontant lilac to date. The initial bloom is heavy and appears in mid-May. It goes through a rest in June and then begins to rebloom in July and continues on until frost. While the summer and fall panicles are not as large as those in the spring, it puts on a very good show. Every single branch bears flowers (not just an occasional flower). One of the reasons for its propensity to flower is its strong growth. As long as it continues to grow it continues to produce new flowers. You don’t have to prune it get it to rebloom, however, a light shearing after the initial bloom results in a fuller plant with more branches and thus more blooms.

As far as its ability to bloom and rebloom I have no doubt. In the selection process, I tagged only the seedlings with the most prolific summer bloom. Each year I repeated the process and in the end I chose the three plants with the most tags. These three, strongly remontant selections, were then propagated and evaluated further in production and in the garden. Eventually we selected one plant and introduced it as Bloomerang Purple. Of the remaining two plants, one appeared special enough to introduce and should be out in a few years. 

Our Lilac breeding program continues on. I have sowed out F2 crosses and have selected five more remontant plants of various shapes and colors. I have also made crosses that draw in new genetics to obtain plants with dwarf habits, glossier foliage, better fall color and larger flowers. Many of these plants look promising but only prolonged testing and evaluation will determine which, if any, are worthy of introduction. But the plan is to offer a range plants under the Bloomerang series.

As the Product Development Manager at Spring Meadow Nursery, one of my main functions is to find new and superior plants for the Proven Winners flowering shrub line. The shrubs in this line are selected based on a specific criterion that in its most general terms focuses superior performance, improved disease resistance, ease of production and culture, compact and dwarf habits, attractive foliage, and extended or multiple seasons on interest. Adding lilacs to the line was a goal of mine because they offer many fine attributes that make them popular. Most notably lilacs bloom in the spring when people are in the garden center, they offer excellent hardiness, they’re well recognized by consumers, they’re very colorful in bloom and they offer fragrance. On the other hand lilacs typically offer only one season of interest and are susceptible to Powdery Mildew and Pseudomonas. Bloomerang addresses all of these issues and as a result is off to a very good start.

Still, I’m not sure why Bloomerang or any other reblooming lilac is so controversial. It seems to me that some people like to complain and to create controversy even where is there is none. I guess it helps them sell magazines and attract blog subscribers. Regardless, it’s strange to read comments like “ Of all the things that plant hybridizers could be focusing on, this type of indulgence is a waste of creativity… (, August 9, 2009 “How much plant improvement can we stand?”). How can I respond except to say go ahead and call me indulgent and blame me for ruining the joy of lilacs. It will only sell more plants and beautify more yards.