Horticulture Highlight: Leucothoe

January 3, 2023

frosts will lie upon the grass

like bloom on grapes of purple-brown and gold.

The misted early morning will be cold

            -Elinor Wylie

Early morning frosts might not be favorites of many and they increase the leaf-drop of deciduous foliage as we approach winter. Now is a good time to highlight evergreen shrubs. Some visual workhorses within our winter landscape, mountain laurel, rhododendron, yew, boxwood, Japanese andromeda and Oregon grape, have already been profiled in the past.

and the whole wood conspires, by change of kind,

to break the purchase of the gathering mind

            -Richard Wilbur

green plant with cream flowers

Herein, let us sing the praises of another valuable broad-leaf evergreen, Leucothoe, Leucothoe sp. The genus and common name is derived from Greek mythology for Leucothea, one-time mortal human elevated to a sea goddess, savior of mariners.

Hearken the anguish of my cries!

From thy green halls, arise- -arise,

Leucothoe the divine!…

            -Friedrich Schiller

This small genus comprises 6-10 species native to North America and Asia. We grow two species native to southeastern United States. Leucothoe fontanesiana native to Virginia to Georgia and Tennessee commemorates in name, the French botanist Rene Louiche Desfontaines (1750-1833). Leucothoe axillaris is native from eastern Virginia to Florida and Louisiana. Each of these species will grow 3-4 (6) feet high and wide and produce graceful, arching branches with leathery, lustrous dark green leaves, having possibilities of turning a rich bronze/reddish in winter.

A touch of autumn, is brushed from a woolen overcoat

preparing for winter

            –Duo Duo

Earlier in May/June, under these arching stems, waxy, urn-shaped, white flowers developed from the junctures of stems and leaf axils (i.e. axillaris). These flowers’ pendulous habit nonetheless creates an aspect of concealment underneath the overarching evergreen leaves. Up close the flowers emit a slight fragrance which some describe as pleasing, but others have contrary opinions of the scent.

and we read no loss in the leaf,

but a freshness ever the same…

            -Richard Wilbur

On a future visit to Mount Auburn look for some of ourLeucothoe at Spruce Knoll, Narcissus Path, Anemone Path, Barberry Path, Fountain Avenue, Garden Avenue, or Rosebay Avenue among other locations.

Let us blend our souls as one,

hearts’ and senses; ecstasies,

evergreen, in unison

            -Paul Verlaine

About the Author: Jim Gorman

Visitor Services Assistant View all posts by Jim Gorman →

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