How about growing this: ninebark


Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius, is in bloom right now, and I’ll bet anything you’ve never seen it. In fact, I’ll bet you’ve never heard of it and that when you first saw this picture, you thought it was spirea. If so, you made a good guess, because ninebark and spirea are related, both members of the rose family. But the spirea you were thinking of was an Asian species, and ninebark is native to the mid-Atlantic and mid western United States.

Ninebark is a pest- and disease free shrub that is adaptable to a variety of conditions. I grow it in part and full sun; my site is dry, but Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs says that it grows wild along stream banks in Virginia and North Carolina and occurs north to Quebec. If you have a problem spot where nothing seems to do well, try it there. It is deciduous, and the leaves are three-lobed, rather like maple leaves.

Ninebark will grow up to about 12 feet high and wide, but you can easily keep it  smaller by removing the largest canes. Allowed to grow to its maximum size, it would have a mounded shape and would make a nice specimen plant for a mid-size front lawn; kept smaller, it makes a lovely hedge, which is now it’s used in the photo above. You could use it in a mixed hedgerow with other native shrubs such as grey or silky dogwood and blueberries. If you are partial to deep red or gold foliage, cultivars with those colors are available (so you could plant it instead of the red form of Japanese barberry, which is a highly invasive plant). Some individual plants have pink flowers, which are quite lovely. The fruits are  usually tan or green, but many plants have red fruit capsules, which are very attractive against the yellow fall foliage.

But I’ve saved the best for last. Ninebark flowers are a magnet for red admiral butterflies. I sometimes see upwards of a dozen on a single plant. Wouldn’t you like to go right outside your house and see this on a sunny day in May?

red admiral DSCN0726


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