Cladrastis kentukea

2019 – Yellowwood

 American yellowwood is a medium-sized tree native to the southeastern United States, reaching 30-50 feet tall when mature. Indicative of its name, the wood is yellow and encased by smooth grey to light brown bark. It has panicles of white, showy, and fragrant flowers that bloom in the spring. In the fall, it can be identified by its brilliant yellow foliage and bean-like fruits.

Yellowwood grows in full-sun to full-shade, but performs best in part-sun to part-shade with well-drained soil. It makes a great residential tree and can serve as a focal point on smaller properties or can be planted in masses in larger landscapes. Its roots grow deep into the ground making it an ideal tree to plant under. Pruning should occur in summer because the wood is prone to bleeding if pruned in late winter or early spring.  There are very few cultivars of this species with the most notable being ‘Perkins Pink’ which sports light pink flowers.


Schizachyrium scoparium

2019 – Little Bluestem

 Little bluestem is a prairie grass native to eastern North America that matures at 2-4 feet tall and 1.5-2 feet wide. As the name implies, this upright perennial grass is noted for its blueish foliage that turns a beautiful copper tone in the fall. In August, a purple-bronze flower reaches over the foliage and turns into a fluffy seed head, making it a fantastic specimen for year-round interest.

This plant is very adaptable. It thrives in full sun, and can tolerate deer, drought, erosion, shallow-rocky soil, and black walnut. It looks best when planted in masses, as a border, or in a prairie-like or meadow setting. Cutting back Little Bluestem should occur in late winter or early spring. There are many cultivars of this plant including ‘Twilight Zone’, which has purple highlights towards the tip, ‘Standing Ovation’, which has dark purple and thicker blades towards the base, and ‘Carousel’, which has a lower and broader base.


Illicium floridanum

2019 – Florida Anise Tree

 Despite the common name, this rapidly growing, broadleaf evergreen shrub grows 6-10 feet tall and 4-8 feet wide. It is native to the southeastern United States and northern Mexico, and can be found in moist, wooded areas. One of its most attractive characteristics is the maroon-purple star-like blooms. The flower is 1-2 inches in diameter and blooms April-May. These unique flowers have a pungent fragrance and are pollinated by flies and beetles. The foliage has a strong spicy fragrance when crushed, which makes this plant unpalatable to deer. Florida Anise Tree thrives in moist, well-drained, and highly organic soil, and partial to full shade. Although native to the deep south, Illicium floridanum has proved winter hardy at Jenkins for over 30 years.

This plant was first discovered in 1766 and entered into cultivation shortly after. Some popular cultivars include ‘Alba’, which has a white bloom, ‘Halley’s Comet’, which has larger red blooms, and ‘Shady Lady’, which has light pink flowers and variegated foliage.


Physostegia virginiana

2017 – Obedient Plant

The obedient plant or false dragonhead is a very fun plant that has some very unique qualities. First of all, the obedient plant’s common name comes from the flowers’ unique pliable nature. The flower heads can be pushed along the axis of the stem and will remain wherever they are moved. This makes the plant very useful for cut flowers or flower arrangements. This plant is a rhizomatous perennial that is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae. A common characteristic of this family is a square stem. The flowers a pale lilac with a tubular shape and snapdragon appearance that grow on terminal spikes. The flower spikes bloom from the bottom to top from late June to September. P. virginiana has sharply toothed, lanceolate leaves arranged in an opposite manner. The square stems can reach up to 4 feet but may fall over if the soils are too rich or it is not receiving enough sun. Beware this plant can spread rather aggressively either by seed or rhizomatously with stolons. To prevent this a gardener can pull up the undesired shallow roots to keep the plant tamed.

Obedient plant lives in a wide variety of habitats from open meadows to stream banks. It is native to much of North America from Quebec to Florida and even west to New Mexico. This plant is great because it can tolerate moist soils with poor drainage or soils on the drier end of the spectrum. The nectar of this plant is desirable to many species of butterflies and even attracts hummingbirds. Overall this is an excellent plant and can really give a show in the late summer, early fall especially if used in a rain garden.

Gelsemium sempervirens

2018 – Carolina Jessamine

Carolina Jessamine is a 10 to 20-foot-long, twining evergreen vine native to the southeastern United States.  As it is a southern species, in southeastern Pennsylvania it is best to use the cold-hardy variety called ‘Margarita’ and plant it in a location where it will be protected from harsh winter winds.

Gelsemium is among the first plants to bloom every year – a welcome sign that winter is over and the long-awaited spectacle of spring is about to begin.  The bright yellow, trumpet shaped flowers are very attractive and their sweet, candy-like fragrance can be enjoyed from a distance, though you should never pass up an opportunity to get a close-up sniff.

This vine will grow best, and will flower most profusely in moist, well-drained soils and full, bright sun.  It is highly deer resistant and looks wonderful grown on a trellis, arbor, pergola, fence or wall and even makes a good porch cover.  If desired, prune immediately after flowering to control its height.