Hairy lilac flowers after the common lilac (S. vulgaris), in late June. During flowering the shrub is covered in tight conical clusters of flowers on downy stalks, opening a beautiful rose-red, which gradually fades. The scent is faint, and perhaps less attractive than in other lilacs. But even without flowers the hairy lilac is a beautiful, rounded, broadly-growing shrub. The leaves are large, often quite narrow and long-tipped, dull green above and blue-green below.
Hairy lilac is native to northern China, where it grows in moist to dry shrubbery on slopes, in sparse forest and on river banks at elevations 1200-2200m. It has been grown as an ornamental since the 1800s, when Dr. Emil Bretschneider sent seeds from Peking to Europe and the United States. However, it was originally discovered by the French Jesuit and botanist d’Incarville as early as 1750. Its winter hardiness may be judged from the fact that the shrubs at Mustila have been grown from seed originating in Tomsk, Siberia. The species hybridises easily with other lilacs, and its genes can be found in many varieties.