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Arnold Arboretum Lilacs Are Mother Nature's Special Treat For Mother's Day

At the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain on Friday, Hilary Samarel, of Cambridge, lifts her 3-month-old daughter, Noa, for her very first whiff of lilac flowers. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
At the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain on Friday, Hilary Samarel, of Cambridge, lifts her 3-month-old daughter, Noa, for her very first whiff of lilac flowers. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
This article is more than 5 years old.

Mother Nature's got a sweet gift in store for moms (and the rest of us) this Mother's Day.

Sunday marks the 107th annual Lilac Sunday at Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, and some 100 flowers are in bloom.

Due to lingering cold in March and early April, Jon Hetman, a spokesman for the arboretum, says many of this year's more than 370 lilacs are late bloomers, with some blooming just earlier this week — about two weeks later than expected.

Lilacs bloom in the Arnold Arboretum. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Lilacs bloom in the Arnold Arboretum. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Although winter's stubbornness may have made the lilacs "a little bit late," Hetman says, he doesn't blame record snowfall in Boston for the plants' tardiness and instead says the powdery snow actually helped the plants retain moisture.

"We didn't really get down to the negative 30-degree Fahrenheit territory, which is when lilacs start to perish," he said. "So they're very hearty."

There are about 170 types of lilacs on display at the arboretum, and its Syringa oblata, as well as several hybrid lilacs, are now in full bloom.

Elizabeth Ryan, of Boston, smells the flowers. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Elizabeth Ryan, of Boston, smells the flowers. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

On Sunday, Hetman anticipates between 30,000 and 40,000 visitors will join tours at the arboretum stopping to smell these fragrant flowers.

He said he believes New Englanders hold a special affection for lilacs and often share sentimental feelings toward them.

"It's a very common plant in American gardens. They've been growing here for over 200 years," he said. "Because they bloom pretty early in the season, they sort of have that connection to people of renewal, the end of a long winter and the coming of spring."

When Lilac Sunday first began in 1908, it was held at the end of May to coincide with the week that most of the arboretum's lilacs were in bloom.

Two women walk down a path lined with lilac bushes at the arboretum. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Two women walk down a path lined with lilac bushes at the arboretum. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

"Over the last century, we've seen Lilac Sunday creeping up as our planet has gotten warmer," Hetman said. "It's about a two-week change now. ... Of course, that really all depends on weather."

This year, lilacs will be at their peak in mid-May, according to Hetman.

Some of the lilacs may even predate the opening of the Arnold Arboretum, he explains, but the oldest lilac on record is the tree lilac, Syringa reticulata, which has been blooming on the grounds for 139 years.

Nancy Lange lifts her 2-year-old daughter, Anju, to smell the lilacs at the Arnold Arboretum on Friday afternoon. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Nancy Lange lifts her 2-year-old daughter, Anju, to smell the lilacs at the Arnold Arboretum on Friday afternoon. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Visitors to the arboretum Sunday can see more plants than lilacs, too. Hetman says a number of the garden's cherry trees, Saucer Magnolias, redbuds and crabapples are coming into bloom now as well.

If you're planning on driving over to see the lilacs this weekend, be aware that construction on the Casey Overpass will close down traffic in the westbound lane toward the arboretum on May 9. Public transportation may be your best bet instead.

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Lisa Creamer Twitter Digital News Editor and Producer
Lisa Creamer is a digital editor and producer at WBUR.

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