Since 1978 the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has recognized outstanding trees, shrubs, and woody vines with a special gold medal award. The plants are evaluated for performance, pest and disease resistance, eye appeal, and hardiness in USDA zones 5 to 7. These often are underutilized plants in the landscape that should be receiving greater attention.
One of the most striking winners for 2008 is the Japanese hornbeam (Carpinus japonica). This deciduous tree -- shorter and more graceful than the native hornbeam -- grows 20 to 30 feet tall at maturity, making it an excellent landscape tree for small yards and roadsides. In spring the Japanese hornbeam produces thumb-sized, cone-shaped nutlets in shades of cream, tan, and green. These "fruits" eventually turn brown and decorate the tree until autumn, when the foliage steals the show by turning brilliant yellow. Japanese hornbeam is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9. It grows best in full sun but can tolerate part shade, and it's adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions.
For more information on Japanese hornbeam and other gold medal-winning plants, go to: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.