Answer: Some interesting shrubs for the landscape include the French Mulberry or Beautyberry -- Callicarpa americana. While the plant is not anything to shout about during the early growing season, it produces outstanding clusters of purple or white berries which encircle the stems from late summer through fall, giving you great color when you really need it. Another old fashioned deciduous native is the Carolina allspice, or sweet shrub -- Calycanthus floridus. This shade loving plant grows rapidly and produces flowers at an early age in late spring. The common plant has a reddish brown colored flower with a wonderful spicy aroma, but there is a rare yellow form with an almost citrusy scent available at Ridgecrest nursery. The variety is Athens. Another wonderful shade native is the Euonymus americana, commonly called strawberry bush or wahoo. This plant has tiny yellowish green flowers in the spring, but outstanding strawberry red fruit in the fall which pop open to expose bright red seeds. These can persist well into fall.
An interesting family to experiment with is the witch hazel family. Hamamelis vernalis, the vernal witchhazel and Hamamelis virginiana, the common witchhazel are both native shrubs. Both have very fragrant , spiky yellow flowers, the vernal one in January - March, while the common plant blooms in the fall -- seasons when we need interest and color. Their fall foliage is also outstanding. Another member of this family is the fothergilla. Fothergilla gardenii produces white puffballs of honey scented flowers in April to May, and it too has great fall color. These plants do best in full sun to partial shade and prefer an acid pH.
All of us are familiar with hydrangeas, and there are some native plants. One of my favorite is the Oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia. These are great plants for the shade/ woodland garden. They produce lovely panicles of white flowers in early to mid summer, which persist all summer. Then the fall foliage is spectacular. As they age the bark peels and gives them an interesting winter habit as well. Give them room to grow as they can grow six feet or taller and spread wide. Another native hydrangea, is Hydrangea arborescens. This is a native lacecap hydrangea. Some improved cultivars which should be readily available are 'Annabelle' and 'Grandiflora'.
Hollies are a popular addition to Arkansas landscapes, and some of them are native plants. One of our most common hollies -- the Yaupon holly is native as is the Savannah and American hollies. One often overlooked member of this family is the deciduous holly -- Ilex decidua and Ilex verticillata. Commonly called possum haw or winterberry, these plants have a profusion of berries in the winter, which really stand out once the leaves are shed. Some outstanding selections include 'Council Fire', 'Warren's Red', 'Sunset' and 'Winter Red'.
Virginia Sweetspire, Itea virginica is an easy and outstanding plant to grow. It produces white fragrant flowers in May each year. It is very adaptable doing well in full sun to heavy shade, tolerates a wide range of pH and soil conditions -- from moist to dry. It also has outstanding fall foliage. Two varieties to investigate are 'Saturnalia' (introduced in 1994 by Arkansan Larry Lowman) and 'Henry's Garnet'. These grow three to five feet in height and in time spread wider than they are tall.
Another group of native shrubs is the Illicium's or Anise plants. Illicium floridanum comes in white or red flowered varieties. The Illicium parviflorum is a hardier performer and produces a larger mass planting. Makes a good screening or hedge plant in a shady, moist area in your yard. The Florida anise plants look better in more shade. If exposed to much sunlight, they tend to be a thinner plant.
A Favorite (Azaleas)
The number one landscape plant in Arkansas tends to be the azalea. But there are native azaleas that can be a wonderful addition to your landscape. You can get colors and scents unheard of in evergreen hybrids, and they are much more tolerant of our weather conditions -- both summer and winter. The only downside for some people, is that they aren't evergreen. These shrubs can grow quite large in time, and typically bloom in mid to late spring. One of the most fragrant of these is Rhododendron alabamense, the Alabama azalea. It produces white flowers, blotched in yellow and can grow up to eight feet in height. Rhododendron arborescens or the Sweet Azalea produces white to pink azaleas with red styles, grows five to six feet in height. The Flame azaleas, Rhododendron calendulaceum produces some wonderful yellow and orange varieties. So instead of opting for all evergreens, plant some of these or other wonderful deciduous varieties. They will pay you back with graceful blooms every spring without the fuss of the evergreen type.
There are also some nice selections of viburnums which are native. Most people are familiar with the snowball bush -- (which is a viburnum, just not native). Some native members of the family include Arrowwood viburnum, Viburnum dentatum. Indians used the stalks of this plant to make arrows, since the wood was strong and straight. It will form a large shrub with white flowers in late spring to early summer. Viburnum nudum is another early summer white bloomer, with rapid growth. Following flowering clusters of berries form which change colors over time. 'Count Pulaski' is an introduced plant from Ridgecrest Nursery. Viburnum prunifolium, the Blackhaw viburnum will grow quite large, forming a small tree or large shrub. Similar in appearance to a hawthorne tree, it has small white flower heads in May, followed by a berry.
As you can see, you have more options than you knew when it comes to native shrubs. If you need taller plants -- those we could call tall bushes or small trees, you could also plant the fabulous native Grancy Greybeard, Old Man's Beard or White Fringe Tree -- Chionanthus virginicus. It's clusters of white fringe like flowers in the spring last longer and, to many, beat a dogwood, hand down. They also require a lot less care. There are also numerous magnolias for the landscape. While many think only about the large-growing Southern Magnolia, there are some great native varieties with a smaller size. These include Sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana, the Bigleaf Magnolia -- Magnolia macrophylla, and if you want something almost tropical in appearance, plant the Umbrella Magnolia, Magnolia tripetela. It has the appearance of a giant scheffelera in your garden, and it's hardy.
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