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A Few Noteworthy Natives

Yucca
Also known as Adam’s-Needle, these evergreen plants are very tough and found throughout most of the eastern U.S. Somewhere between an herbaceous perennial and a shrub, they don’t develop trunks but do keep their leaves for multiple years and form a rosette with multiple clumps over time. Roots are very tough and taproots and deep side roots help hold the soil and break up heavy clay. Their preferred soil type is sandier, but their tolerance for a range of conditions is excellent. Full sun is best, especially for those forms with stripes of yellow in the leaves, but plants can be found growing in semi-shaded areas in the wild. Large ivory bells appear on tall stalks in summer, giving the clumps a very majestic, eye-catching prescence in the garden. Their tolerance for being grown in containers – provided that the container is sturdy enough not to be broken by the roots – also allows for some stunning long-term, low-maintenance planting combinations. The sword-like leaf shapes make for a great contrast to many other foliage types, from feathery Creeping Juniper to plush Lamb’s-Ears to succulent Sedum leaves. Other companion plants preferring similar conditions include Bayberry, Beach Plum, Potentilla, Juniper, St. Johnswort, Pine, Lavender, Thyme, Ice Plant, Agastache, Sedum, and Sea Holly.

Bayberry (a.k.a. Candleberry or Waxmyrtle)
While related to neither bay leaf nor myrtles, these shrubs are found on the coastal plain throughout the east, overlapping in our area with the northern and southern species. Leaves are unremarkable in appearance but very aromatic, emitting a spicy scent when brushed or blowing in the breeze and deterring deer. Berries develop on pollinated female plants in autumn and last into early winter where they are an important food source for migrating and overwintering birds. Dark blue-gray in color, the fragrant wax coating them is an almost silvery-blue and is used to make bayberry candles. Mature sizes are quite variable depending on growing conditions;  generally, rich soils produce tall, lanky plants and poor, drier soils produce stocky, short plants. Bayberry is capable of obtaining its own nitrogen from the soil, so no fertilizers are needed (or usually recommended) to keep them happy. Not prone to pests or diseases, they make great screening plants or additions to a habitat garden. Semi-evergreen, they can keep leaves if the winter is mild or shed them if the winter is harsher;  when evergreen, they can sometimes take on a deep purplish, almost black, color in winter. Due to their preferred habitat, they are very tolerant of sea salt, they won’t be bothered by the occasional drift of ice-melting salt if they’re near a street or walkway. Unfortunately, few sexed forms exist in horticulture (catching them in flower and telling them apart is not easy), but if you have room to plant several, you’re probably going to end up with a mixture and therefore berries on some plants. Full sun is best for the densest growth, but they can be found in open, high-branched woodlands as well and seem to do just fine. Since their preferred habitat has sandy soils, a heavy clay soil should be amended or planted over with a raised bed. Companion plants that perform well in similar conditions include Yucca, Potentilla, Beach Plum, St. Johnswort, Yaupon holly, and New Jersey Tea.

Leucothoe
Native to much of the southeast and portions of the gulf coast (although not quite occurring naturally in Maryland), these evergreen shrubs are a great choices for shady areas riddled with deer. Foliage can take on blushes of red in spring (new growth) and winter (all growth) and flowers are ivory-white in drooping clusters along the stems in mid- to late spring. Deer dislike the taste of the foliage and their relaxed, arching habit make them great additions to the wooded wildlife garden. Low growth mixes well with other woodsy perennials like ferns (ferns go with everything!), Hosta, Wood Asters, Wintergreen, and Anemone; and shrubs like deciduous Azaleas, Mountain-laurel, Spicebush, Mahonia, and Siberian Carpet. Not many of our regional natives are evergreen shrubs, so these are invaluable for keeping winter interest in the garden and providing low cover for ground-foraging birds and chipmunks. Happy plants may sucker a bit, and in the wild they can be found in mountain ravines and other moist places.

American Persimmon
Persimmons are a native hardwood tree that’s commonly encountered in our local woodlands and fields. Female trees stand out in autumn as they ripen their pink-blushed golden-orange fruits, which feed many forest critters as they ripen around the time of the first frosts. Fruits are astringent unless fully ripe, so be careful when you sample them! For those who don’t want fruit (or need a pollinator), male trees are a great option for planting in areas that are tough for other trees – air pollution, drought, and infertile soil are all non-problems for American Persimmons. Full sun is best if you want fruit, but in other cases or for male trees, part shade is perfectly acceptable. Soil should be ideally moist and well-drained, but most soils from clay to sand are fine. Persimmons are related to Ebony, and their wood is prized for durable equipment such as pool cues, flooring, and golf club heads. Their un-fussy nature makes them a great choice for a reliable street tree, and their wildlife value makes a great addition to any home-grown habitat.

by Miri Talabac, Woody Plant Buyer

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