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!