Beyond the flower

Sometimes I get too caught up in flowers. One of my goals is to have something in bloom every month of the year in our yard. A worthy challenge. Flowers speak to us. They make us happy, they bring us joy and yes, frustration.

We often get so caught up in the flower that we overlook all aspects of the plant. What about bark? I know that bark is not a flower but it offers some great color and texture during the winter months. When we think of bark as an ornamental quality of a plant we might think of the paper or river birch. They have some fantastic exfoliating bark that adds another focal point to the garden. What about a hydrangea, elm, pine, maple, or even yellow wood.

Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangeaanomala subsp. petiolaris) is one of the first examples I think of when I am looking for a plant to offer some winter interest. Native to Japan and Taiwan and a true member of the hydrangea family this vine offers four seasons of color. Like many of its cousins it does well in shad but can tolerate full sun if given enough moisture. Blooms are white and appear early summer and last for a few weeks before fading. The only downside to this plant is the Japanese beetle. They love the plant and can do some serious damage to the leaves. But an interesting observation that we have seen with our plants at our office is the Japanese beetle only feed on the leaves that are in direct sunlight. They tend to leave the foliage that is in the shade alone.

Another plant to consider is seven-sons flower (Heptacodium miconioides). This is a tall shrub or short tree depending on how it is pruned. Typically they are multi stemmed shrub that can grow around 20 feet tall. Besides the bark that resembles the shag bark hickory this plant will bloom late August into September. A great butterfly and bee magnet at the end of the season when many flowers are done for the year. There are no serious pests or problems that have been reported in any literature about this plant.

Other plants to consider is the paperbark maple (Acer griseum). The paperbark maple is native to central China where it is critically endangered. Almost all trees currently in cultivation are a clone of a tree that was collected and brought over to the U.S. in the 1890’s. There are serious concerns about genetic bottleneck. A short tree reaching about 30 feet tall at maturity.

Not all bark has to exfoliate. Yellow wood (Cladrastis kentukea) has attractive smooth bark and fantastic spring flowers. Even lacebark pine is a slow growing tree that offers some great features. When you start to think about it there are multiple options that a home gardener can choose from. Why limit yourself just to flowers?

Scott Evans
Scott Evans is a horticulture assistant with Nebraska Extension in Douglas-Sarpy Counties. A certified arborist through International Society of Arboirculture and Nebraska Arborist Association. Scott is also Tree Risk Assessment Qualified through ISA. Scott co-leads the Master Gardener program in Douglas & Sarpy counties. Along with volunteer management he provides his expertise with disease and insect identification, lawn and landscape weed management, plant health, and I.P.M. practices. He also enjoys growing many houseplants ranging from African violets to cacti and succulents. Scott has two Bachelors of Science, one in Biology (emphasis in Botany, Ecology and Environmental Science) and second in Environmental Geology from Northwest Missouri State University. He earned his Master of Agriculture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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