Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Damn good plants - Distylium myricoides


Rarely does a new plant appear in the market with a name that leaves you scratching your head.  All to often we get bombarded with the seemingly endless flood new cultivars claiming to out perform older versions but look just like a repackaged original.  So when a nursery sales rep half jokingly pointed out a curiosity on his availability list and called it a 'Rob Woodman plant', I jumped at the chance to bring it in.  The shrub in question is called the Blue Leafed Izu Tree or Distylium myricoides

Just a young one, planted - October 2011

One of the features that caught my eye was the structural herringbone arrangement of foliage along the arching stems.  The 'Blue Leaf' part of the name refers is a slight iridescent quality found on the glossy foliage.  I found the flowering to be pleasing yet moderately exciting, resulting in small ribbon-like petaled clusters of red blooms borne at the leaf axis of the stem.  Distyliums are closely related to Witch hazels but the crown for best flowering still remains firmly with its cousins.  Its mounding habit with graceful arching branches is quite exquisite making it a good choice for use as a foundation shrub.  I suspect it could be a good replacement for dwarf English Yew but I'm hopeful that its main role will be to compete with the over planted Otto Luykens Cherry laurel as a backdrop planting.

Due to the fact that the plant was sitting in obscurity until recently there’s very little reference information on it.  The Guru of all things woody, Michael Dirr only included it in his latest version of the 'Manual of Woody Trees and Shrubs'. Obviously his excited by its performance in the landscape to the point of hybridizing D. myricoides with D. racemosum to introduce some new cultivars through his partnership in Plant Introduction Inc.  It will probably a couple more years until we see the fruits of their labor being distributed widely into garden centers but exciting to know different forms are being worked on.  As yet, I tried the plants in a mixture of locations and found that they're tolerant of filtered to full blazing sun. Shade on the other hand makes them open up and loose their body.  I have a small planting out in front of the garden center in a very exposed situation, open to cold winter winds that have stood just fine. Growth rate is said to be slow but I have experienced good progression to the point of trimming one of mine back after 2 years to balance its habit.  To date, no pest or disease damage to be concerned with and that counts for deer and rabbit attacks.  Good amended acid soil is recommended but our Virginia clay doesn't seem to upset them.

So could this be the hot plant of the future?  Well we'll see but for my money well worth the venture, at least until the next new one comes along!

7 comments:

  1. I've got two distylliums. One is straight myricoides and the other a Dirr hybrid. I think Blue Cascade, if I remember. Both went in last summer. Both had some old leaves winter burn. Perhaps another season in the ground will give them the root structure to weather our winters. We'll see.

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    1. Dave in AnnandaleAugust 3, 2013 at 3:42 AM

      Last season, Dirr hybrid 'Blue Cascade' made its appearance at one of our big box stores. I had to get it.

      This season was the first time I saw 'Emerald Heights'. Perhaps the one I wanted the most, 'Vintage Jade' will finally show up in the markets next season!

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  2. "structural herringbone arrangement of foliage along the arching stems" ... the perfect description and probably the thing that drew me to these. There were five of them at the Fall garden show at our local arboretum. When I was told that they do best in a woodland setting, I knew that I had the perfect area for them. They are doing great and are one of the favorite areas of my yard. I found one more at one of the local garden centers recently and added it to balance the area. Really great plants!

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  3. They are a cool looking plant. I just got some new stock in a 7 gallon nursery pot, and they are just jaw dropping. Mine at my house did get a little leaf burn but they should grow out of this. Thanks for commenting.

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  4. Would they be appropriate for the front of a handsome colonial home with front windows three feet from the ground? Lots of boxwood in the garden, but it is not a formal garden. I live in No Virginia and have seen them at a local nursery, but not many. Think it was D. myricoides

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    1. I can't see why not. Dwarf English Yew was used for the longest time as a staple of landscaping in the Northern Virginia area. It has a similar habit to Distylium, but fell out of favor for the Otto Luykens Cherry Laurels instead. I believe that Distyliums can provide a soft texture often needs to contrast the hard lines of homes architecture, but at the same time tie into the planting scheme that you would expect to see with colonial homes. Give it a try and let me know how it turned out?

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  5. you may typically realize this with a number of the larger stately homes, sharp geometric lines and generally brick walls that may lead you into a less stately garden space.

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