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Pendulous blooms hang like delicate icicles.

With so many exotic species to enjoy in our gardens, it is easy to miss what might be growing wild just beyond. Silk tassel, Garrya elliptica, is endemic to coastal slopes within thirty miles of the ocean, between San Luis Obispo and Newport in Oregon. Yet, it seems to be more popular abroad than it is here at home. It is more adaptable to refined landscapes than most other natives are.

Silk tassel is more tolerant to supplemental irrigation than most other species from the same region are. It actually prefers to be irrigated at least occasionally through summer, particularly in drier and warmer climates. However, as a native, it is resilient to lapses of irrigation too. If necessary for form or confinement, awkward and obtrusive stems can be selectively pruned out after bloom.

Long and elegantly pendulous catkins of tiny pale grayish white flowers bloom late in winter or early in spring. After bloom, dried catkins linger prettily into summer. Garden varieties are male, with longer blooms. ‘James Roof’ can produce catkins nearly a foot long. Female plants in the wild bloom with shorter catkins. Glossy evergreen leaves are two to three inches long with wavy margins.

8 thoughts on “Silk Tassel

  1. I used to live within the range of Garrya, it is an unusual and attractive native. There are a number of unique native shrubs here in the midwest that are also little known, some of my favorites are Spicebush, Wahoo, Strawberry bush, and Bladdernut.

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    1. I found that the specie that were so compelling to me in Oklahoma were unnoticed by the natives. Some were considered to be nuisances. Yucca arkansana and Juniperus virginiana proliferated in rangeland that did not burn.

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      1. Same around here – and some of these native shrubs are gorgeous! Euonymus alatus, Burning bush is planted all over the place because it’s leaves turn red. But native Euonymus americanus, Strawberry bush has the prettiest fruits I’ve ever seen and is seldom grown. I guess it’s all about what’s common and reliable in the nursery trade. I’ve been happy to see cultivars coming out of Fragrant sumac, Buttonbush and Ninebark, making them more accessible.

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      2. Well, the nursery industry complicates it even more. We grew a few items that our clients wanted, even though I would not recommend them. We needed to supply what the so-called ‘landscapers’ wanted, and many of the so-called ‘landscapers’ are more proficient at conforming to bad fads than horticultural correctness. What is worse is that, even during this innate ‘sustainability’ fad, growers are promoting weak cultivars that are designed for failure. Real sustainability does not sustain their business.

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