Amazing Fothergilla (Flora of the Week)
First the bad news:
is native in only a handful of US states--Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina, according to the
adds Tennessee to that list...
may have wandered there from North Carolina or North Georgia. Florida's population of
is considered endangered, Georgia's is considered threatened. More on that in a moment.
The good news is that even those folks outside of these states may find
a good fit for some of their landscaping, at least in zones 5 to 8. "Mount Airy" (also listed as "Mt. Airy")
, the most popular cultivar, is a highly insect- and disease-resistant shrub that grows 3 to 6 feet high and wide. The true native will grow 6 to 12 feet tall. In the spring, it sprouts white "bottle-brush" blooms (
), one to two inches long. The blooms may show up even before the leaves do, though usually at least the beginning of leaves have started to emerge (as you see in the photo).
What I love most about
is her fall wardrobe selection. She is a little indecisive. Faced with choosing between yellow, orange, red and purple blouses, she dons them all. With stronger sun exposure, the colors are brighter. What a lovely cacophony! Makes me wonder why I only have two planted!
does require moisture and prefers acidic soils. The moisture issue and the zone 8 issue are probably why
is doing poorly in Florida. When I left south Georgia, plants that were hardy only to zone 9 were surviving winters in my 8b zone. Drought was also an issue. Between the two, it wouldn't be too far a stretch to suppose that say, three years of excess heat and drought would kill a number of shrubs that need "moist woods" and zone 8 temperatures.
In the second photo are two Mount Airy Fothergilla side by side. The redder one is closer to a Norway Spruce, which probably means it gets more shade in the morning--but not much, because both shrubs receive southern exposure sun, though not full sun. Full sun is not recommended. Soil chemistry causing the color difference? Possible. A safflower seed feeder hangs beside the spruce and any number of birds till and fertilize the soil by the redder shrub. (More nitrogen! Yippee!) The color difference is consistent with this year's coloring, though the photo was taken last fall.
Fothergilla is in the same family as witchhazel (
), which is evident in the leaf shape and structure. It is a beefy kind of leaf--otherwise known as "leathery"--and has a lot of texture to it, though it is not as sharply serrated as the witchhazel leaf. Fothergilla can be rooted from softwood cuttings--cuttings should not be disturbed until after new leaves on the stem reach one full inch in length. It is not, unfortunately, deer resistant.