Diospyros virginiana

2023 – Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)

Photo courtesy of Trees Atlanta

With long, pendulous branches, persimmon is a unique choice for the landscape. Although the dark green, ovate leaves complement the grayish, blocky, alligator-skin bark through the growing season, this tree really shines in fall when it bears bright orange leaves and small, apricot-colored fruits. Similar to the non-native persimmon fruits sold in the grocery store, these native persimmons are very sweet once ripe and are delicious fresh or can be baked into breads and other desserts. The fruits also attract a wide variety of wildlife including birds. Persimmon is a dioecious species, meaning that there are separate male and female trees. In order to produce fruits, the female must have a male pollinator nearby. It grows best in dry to medium soils in full sun to part shade. This tree reaches 35-60′ in height and spreads about 25-30′, but under less-than-ideal conditions can grow in a shrubby habit and reach only 15′.

Athyrium filix-femina

2023 – Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)

Photo courtesy of Hirt’s Gardens

Lady fern offers great textural contrast and is more adaptable than most other native ferns. At 1-3′ in height and with a 1-2.5′ spread, this fern grows easily in rich, well-drained soils but can also thrive in somewhat drier conditions. It prefers part to full shade but can handle more sunlight if the soil is constantly moist. The yellowy-green, erect fronds form a tight vase shape that can function as a vertical accent or look stunning en masse. Finely-toothed leaflets with dark contrasting stems are vibrant throughout the spring and summer, then turn a golden yellow after the first frost before going dormant for winter. Lady fern is clump-forming, slow spreading, and deer resistant. It is widely adaptable in the landscape, making it a great low-maintenance choice for the garden. For an even more distinctive look, there are many interesting selections of lady fern available.

Sporobolus heterolepis

2023 – Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)

Photo courtesy of Prairie Nursery

Prairie dropseed is a beautiful and functional grass selection suitable for a wide range of landscapes. Naturally found in prairies, glades, and open meadows, its thin, wispy foliage is a soft complement to the upright forms and bold textures of wildflowers. It can also offer good contrast to sedge and grass mixtures in either large drifts or as an accent plant. The fine-textured foliage is punctuated by loose, airy flowering stalks from August to October before fading to a coppery blonde with streaks of red throughout. With a 2-3′ height and spread, this full-sun perennial is clump-forming and does not freely self-seed, making it easy to maintain. It is also tolerant to many landscape pressures like deer, black walnut, and dry or rocky soils. In the winter it resists flattening from snow and maintains its fountain shape. Prairie dropseed is a great choice for no fuss, year-long interest.

Decumaria barbara

2022 – Woodvamp (Decumaria barbara)

Woodvamp, also known as climbing hydrangea, is a deciduous, semi-evergreen vine that has dark, glossy leaves. Its flowers are small, white, and fragrant, and only appear on new growth. It attracts bees and butterflies with its clusters of flowers. Woodvamp is a great candidate to cover the side of a building, grow over a trellis, or even climb up a mature tree. It doesn’t do any real harm to the tree, as it tends to cling to the main trunk, instead of competing with the tree by covering its canopy. It also makes a great ground cover and will keep full leaf coverage from the base of the plant to the top of the vine (note that it will only flower when climbing). Woodvamp does exceptionally well in part shade, and is fast growing, reaching up to 5 feet of new growth a year. It can reach a height of about 50 feet.  

Rhododendron arborescens

2022 – Sweet azalea (Rhododendron arborescens)

The sweet azalea is a deciduous shrub that can grow up to 10 feet tall with a similar width. It thrives in acidic, well-draining soils and in part shade. There are two main forms of sweet azalea. What could be called the “straight species” blooms in late May to mid-June while the variety called “Georgiana” blooms mid-July to early August. Regardless of form, their flowers have a wonderful, strong fragrance that lives up to its name. The 2-inch-wide flowers can be white, sometimes tinged with pink, and very rarely pink.  The leaves turn a lovely crimson/orange in the fall. This species makes an outstanding addition to any garden.