Friday, November 14, 2014

Fothergilla -- Weird Name But Outstanding Plants

Fothergilla was actually named after a Quaker physician named John Fothergill. It is a member of the witch hazel family and includes 2 species, Fothergilla gardenii and F. major.

The genus has lived in obscurity despite the efforts of plantsmen like Michael Dirr and Harrison Flint.  However, once hybrids of the 2 species were created, fothergilla finally got some attention.

Fothergilla gardenii, dwarf fothergilla, is native to the coastal plains of North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle. It is low-growing (2-3' tall) and will sucker to an equal spread.

Leaves are blue-green. Blooms come in early spring before the leaves unfold. Bottlebrush-like flowers are white and have a honey scent. Fall color can be quite vibrant but will vary from plant to plant.

F. gardenii will not do well in alkaline, heavy soils. It does best in acidic conditions, well-drained but continually moist soils. It can be propagated by seed or with softwood cuttings.

Cultivars: 'Appalachia', 'Blue Mist', and 'Jane Platt'

Fothergilla major, large or mountain forthergilla, is a highland species native to the mountains of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.

F. major is a large, multi-stemmed shrub that can grow 6 to 10' high.  The leaves are large and green.

Blooms typically in a landscape setting emerge at about the same time as F. gardenii. Blooms are larger than F. gardenii. Fall color is more reliably vivid.

F. major is more tolerant of stressful conditions so it is much better adapted to cultivation. It is cold hardy to USDA zone 4 and will tolerate heavier soils. The species can be propagated by softwood cuttings and seed, though seed production is much less than F. gardenii.

Cultivars: 'Arkansas Beauty' and 'Mystic Harbor'.

Fothergilla x intermedia  hybrids were created from crossing F. gardenii and F. major. Propagators selected for compact size, vigor, bloom, and fall color. These hybrids caught on fast in the 1990s when the selection 'Mt Airy' was introduced by Michael Dirr.

These hybrid fothergillas work best for the landscape as they have the best qualities of both parents. 'Mt Airy' is the standard by which all future hybrids will be measured.
'Mt Airy' in bloom in Somerset 4/13

'Mt Airy' fall color in Pulaski Co on 11/8/12

'Mt Airy' fall color in Pulaski Co on 11/14/14