Mackinac is known for our lilacs and with good reason - our cold winters and limestone based soil are ideal growing conditions for lilacs.
Our lilacs tend to grow tall - compare the people to the size of the "bushes" in this photo (and these are not amongst the largest) :
But how old are they and how long have they been growing here...really?
If you listen to the Carriage Tours drivers, they tell the tourists that the French first brought lilacs to Mackinac. But it just seems really unlikely that either French fur trappers or Jesuit missionaries were hauling lilacs via canoe to plant on Mackinac, they were rather involved in other pursuits.
This particular myth makes us think of an alternative version of Johnny Appleseed - Jacque LeLac, anyone?
But at a recent presentation at the Mackinac Island Public Library, by Corinne Smith, author of
Westward I Go Free: Tracing Thoreau's Last Journey has brought to light the earliest written documentation of lilacs on Mackinac yet - in July of 1861 by Henry David Thoreau!
Suffering from "consumption," or tuberculosis, during the last years of his life, Thoreau decided, on the recommendation of his physicians, to take a trip to St. Anthony, Minnesota, to stay with a friend. He died nine months after his trip, so his notebook of the journey was never published.
He was on Mackinac from June 30 to the July 4, 1861. During his stay on the Island, Thoreau took extensive botanical notes and copied down local folk stories he learned from the county clerk, William Johnston, brother in-law of Henry Schoolcraft.
Thoreau may be best known as a writer, but he was also a botanist who collected hundreds of specimens of New England plants to create his own herbarium. In addition, he kept detailed journals, noting when and where particular species were in bloom - in fact, his journals are now being used by climatologists to to discern patterns of plant abundance and decline in Concord — and by extension, New England — and to link those patterns to changing climate.
One of these notes made during his stay on Mackinac stated: "apples in bloom - & lilac"