Aronia melanocarpa

2018 – Black Chokeberry

Black Chokeberry is an underused deciduous native shrub, but one that is gaining in popularity for a number of reasons.  Growing from about 2’ to about 6’ in height, depending on cultivar, it is a very tough plant able to grow in a wide range of garden conditions.  It tolerates pollution, salt, drought, insects, diseases, sun, shade, and even deer.

 

In addition to being tough, it is also quite attractive with all-season interest.  In spring, clusters of showy white flowers cover the shrub; in late summer, the flowers make way for clusters of glossy black fruits that dangle from the branches at around the time the leaves have begun transitioning for a fine fall show of red and burgundy; and in winter, after the leaves have fallen, the fruits persist and attract a variety of overwintering songbirds.  These blueberry-sized fruits are also edible for humans and though they are very tart and astringent when raw, they have been processed into a variety of anti-oxidant rich drinks and dietary supplements all around the world.

Black Chokeberry grows with an open, rounded habit with glossy, bright green leaves covering only the top 2/3 of the plant.  Knowing this, it is suggested to plant it in masses and in combination with other plants that will fill in the voids near the base of the plants.

 

Hibiscus moscheutos

2017 – Rose Mallow

The common rose mallow or swamp mallow is an upright shrub-like herbaceous perennial that is commonly found in moist areas such as marshes or lake shores.  H. moscheutos is a member of the Mallow family, Malvaceae.  This plant is unique because you can bring those showy tropical looking hibiscus flowers to the garden.  The flowers are typically a large, beautiful, funnel shape with five separate petals.  Interestingly the stamens and stigma are fused into one structure called a column.  Petals are normally white, pink or red with or some variation in between. H. moscheutos flowers are normally darker towards the middle and can become quite large and showy reaching anywhere from 8 to 10 inches.  Though an individual flower may only last a short period of time, the plant itself continues to bloom through late summer into fall.  The rose mallow can bring quite the accent to any garden and it is recommended to plant a group of 3 or more for a visually appealing effect.

This plant is native to the eastern and southern parts of North America and can be grown in hardiness zones 5-10.  The rose mallow can grow rather tall, reaching anywhere from 5 to 7 feet in a single growing season.  Since it is capable of growing so much it may need to be staked for support.  The optimal growth conditions for H. moscheutos are full sun and moist soils rich in organic matter but, it can tolerate lower quality soils even those containing salt.  It will grow very well in these conditions as long as the soil is not allowed to dry out.  If this plant is being grown in colder regions, one should consider mulch during the winter to protect the roots from frost.  Also it is recommended to prune in the early spring for a bushier growth form.  Japanese beetles have been known to cause damage to the foliage of this plant if left unmanaged.

Amsonia hubrichtii

2017 – Hubricht’s Bluestar

This beautiful clump forming, herbaceous perennial has many noteworthy characteristics making it an excellent choice as a green ribbon native plant.  It is a member of the Dogbane plant family or Apocynaceae.  One trait expressed by members of this family is a milky/latex sap.  Due to this, A. hubrichtii is not preferred by deer.  It is known for its elegant powdery blue star shaped flowers which grow in clusters at the ends of the stems.  These delicate flowers make an appearance in late spring around April and last until the end of May sometimes even longer.  The foliage is another notable characteristic.  These thin, filamentous leaves grow along the stem in an alternate fashion.  They are a beautiful green during the growing season and turn to a stunning yellow during the fall.  This foliage can bring nice texture and color to any garden.

Native to south-central United States Amsonia hubrichtii can grow to about 3 feet tall and spreads 2-3 feet at maturity. This plant is ideal for many different garden situations and is very low maintenance.  It performs best in well drained, rich soil but can tolerate a wide range of conditions.  A. hubrichtii produces the best fall color in full sun however blooms may persist longer if given some afternoon shade. It is also notable that Amsonia is the preferred nectar source for Mourning Cloaks and other early butterflies. Sometimes the plant may grow too tall and flop over.  In order to prevent this, it is recommended that you cut back the stems about a 1/3 after its done blooming.

Magnolia grandiflora

2018 Southern Magnolia

Southern magnolia is a medium-sized, evergreen understory tree native to the southern coastal plain from the Gulf Coast across the top of Florida and up into South Carolina.  Though not native to southeastern Pennsylvania, there are several hardy selections that make it possible for us to enjoy this beautiful tree in our own landscape.  Listed in order of size, from largest to smallest, some of these selections include ‘Edith Bogue’, ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’, ‘Kay Parris’, and ‘Teddy Bear’.

The ornamental qualities of southern magnolia are unlike any other.  It has large, thick, dark green leaves with a glossy shine on top and a layer of fuzzy brown hairs below.  Its classic, huge white flowers can be 12” or more in diameter and perfume the springtime air with an intoxicating, lemon soap-like fragrance.  By fall, the flowers have given way to large, cone-like fruits, containing orange-red berries that dangle on thin filaments and attract songbirds.

Southern Magnolia will grow in full sun to full shade, but will perform best in part sun with moist, rich, well-draining soils.  In our climate, it is best to plant in a location where it can be protected from harsh winter winds.  Like all magnolias, there are no major pests and it is highly deer resistant, though bucks may rub their antlers on the smooth trunks.

Carpinus caroliniana

2014 – American Hornbeam

American Hornbeam

American Hornbeam is a small, slow- growing understory tree that generally grows to 25 feet tall. It is so named because of the hardness of the wood which reminded settlers of a horn and an Old English term for beam which means tree. Another name for this tree is “Musclewood”. While looking at the plant’s trunk and branches they look like a flexing muscle because of the structure of the wood and the coloring of the bark. That “muscular” feature is perhaps its best identifying characteristic.
American Hornbeam is a member of the Betulaceae or Birch Family. Its flower is a non-conspicuous catkin, and the plant is monoecious, meaning both male and female flowers are present on the same plant. The foliage is nice and clean throughout the season with not many pest problems. The tree is best suited for growing in moist, well drained soils in partial sun to moderate shade, although it is adaptable and will acclimate to less than ideal situations. This tree’s true beauty is revealed in the autumn when its deciduous foliage turns varying shades of yellow and orange, and then eventually drops to expose the muscular branching structure in winter. American Hornbeam is a great selection for the woodland garden. It is a species that has changed very little with cultivar selection like so many others. So when an American Hornbeam is planted in the landscape, there is a piece of pure natural beauty in the garden.