Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Itea virginica 'Little Henry'...this is the reason people plant Virginia sweetspire

We can only hope that for some people it will be a reason not to buy Burning Bush, Euonymus alatus, another shrub with brilliant fall color. The downside to Burning Bush is, of course, its tendency to move about by seed...invasively even. Itea stays a bit smaller (especially this selection) than Burning Bush though it does sucker in favorable (moist) conditions. A tendency to be a little lax and open is easily cured by an occasional bit of pruning. On the upside, Itea tends to hold a certain number of its leaves well into the winter so that if it snows this December or January, there will likely be red leaves against white snow. Itea is a North American native while Burning Bush is of Asian origin.

This plant is part of a planting that went in this year below the main parking lot for the Administration Building at the National Arboretum. I didn't mention it at the time, but that project was yet another small step in the continuous improvement of the campus here. Ivy and a miscellany of not so nice plants were removed and replaced with a sustainable planting of beautiful native shrubs: Rhus aromatica 'Grow-Low', Rhus typhina 'Tiger Eyes', and Itea virginica 'Little Henry'. All three are tough, all three are decorative, and all three will take the conditions on the slope. I like it.

Itea is one of a number of plants that are generally grow in wetlands or moist areas, but which seem to be equally adaptable to drier conditions. I've never heard this phenomena discussed, but it seems likely to me that the same sorts of adaptations that allow a plant to live in water might also help to minimize water loss....waxy cuticles, etc. I'm reaching here, but there are certainly a large number of wetland plants that have an above average ability to withstand drought.

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