The dean of woody shrubs and trees, Michael Dirr, and two associates own the plant birthing business. Their most recent deliveries are three compact ornamental evergreen Distylium cultivars: ‘ Blue Cascade,’ ‘ Emerald Heights,’ and ‘Vintage Jade.’
The triplets come from the parentage of two Japanese Isu- trees, Distylium myricoides and D. racemosum. Distyliums, members of the witch hazel family, are evergreen witch hazels. Our native witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, blooms in fall. Many witch hazels bloom in late winter as do the new introductions.
According to Plant Introductions the compact growth habit, disease resistance, temperature tolerance, and reliable performance over time makes the plants a prime alternative to pervasive evergreen foundation plantings like hollies, boxwood, cleyera, Indian hawthorn, junipers, pittosporum, and ligustrum currently in use.
‘Blue Cascade’ has a compact height of 3’ with a 7’ spread making a good hedge or front foundation. New leaves emerge a bronze-purple-red shade before turning a matt blue-green color. By mid- February, red flowers appear from leaf axils. The shrub grows in full sun or partial shade in USDA hardiness zones 7-9.
‘Emerald Heights’ is aptly named for shiny dark green foliage and vertical rounded growth habit. In February and March, red flowers at leaf axils can be expected. The plant reaches 5’ in height with an 8’ spread and is could be used for hedges and screens. The shrub is adaptable for USDA hardiness zones 7-9.
‘ Vintage Jade,’ standing only 2’ tall and spreading 8’ wide, has ground cover possibilities with its low spreading habit. The broadleaf evergreen has glossy dark green leaves. Maroon flowers appear in late winter. The plant is exceedingly heat and drought tolerant, pest and disease resistant, adaptable to most soils, and succeeds in full sun or partial shade in USDA hardiness zones 6b-9.
The triplets are maintenance free but minimal tip pruning after bloom in late winter or in late spring will stimulate new and fuller growth.
Witch hazels are a hardy family with many worthwhile winter blooming specimens adding interest in the dreariest time of the year.