Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Native Spotlight: Fothergilla

Guest Blog by Rachel Shaw 

I like to advocate for plants that are native to our region, by which I generally mean the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and the closer to home the better. But today I’m going to talk about one that falls outside of the Mid-Atlantic region. This is Fothergilla, a lovely shrub for all seasons. According to the USDA Plants Database, its native range is limited to a handful of states to the south of us, of which North Carolina is the closest.  Not only is this sweet little shrub not native to our immediate area, most (including mine) are probably hybrids. But I would love to see this genus replace the ubiquitous Nandina, favored by the nursery trade and many landscapers, which to my mind it is both unattractive and invasive.

Before reading a very thorough and informative article by Rick Darke on Fothergilla, I knew little about this plant except what I had seen: beautiful fall color, attractive and fragrant spring flowers, and am upright habit. From Darke’s article, I learned that it is in the witch hazel family and that there are two species, both native to the southeastern U.S.: Fothergilla gardenii, or Dwarf Fothergilla, and Fothergilla major or Large Fothergilla. The dwarf form is a low growing coastal species, the larger form is found in more mountainous areas. In recent years the two have apparently hybridized when grown in proximity in the nursery trade, creating Fothergilla x intermedia, which now has numerous cultivars.

Fothergilla was growing close to my front door when we moved into the house. Its tallest stems are about six feet; it has never gotten much taller or spread, and has been quite well behaved. Its biggest vice is that following heavy rains, some of the exterior stems tend to droop over our walkway and need to be trimmed back. Other than that, it has required no care. The bottlebrush-like flowers are a delight in spring, the leaves are a pleasing shape, and the fall color is reliably attractive. Sometimes what I’d call a near-native, even a likely cultivar, is just too good to be overlooked!

About the author:
Rachel Shaw focuses on vegetable gardening and growing native plants in her small yard in Rockville, MD. She blogs at http://hummingbirdway.blogspot.com/
This guest blog post is part of a monthly Native Plants series posted around the 10th of each month. \

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