Family: Ericaceae (Heath
One of many reasons to incorporate deciduous shrubs into our
Pacific Northwest home landscapes is their ability to change
their look--and hence the look of the garden they're in--during
each of the four seasons. As a group, these shrubs tend to
spend most of the summer garbed in plain green. Between their
own spring flower show and the colorful leaf display in the
fall, they generally show great consideration for their plant
companions and step to the back of the border--in a manner
of speaking--during summer. For three months or so, deciduous
shrubs don't so much shine on their own as provide a neutral
and unobtrusive backdrop for dramatically colored annuals and
Enkianthus campanulatus, commonly known as redvein enkianthus,
follows this pattern exactly. By the end of June its hanging
clusters of bell-shaped flowers have faded. What's left behind
is foliage reminiscent of rhododendrons--the two do belong
to the same family, after all, although rhodies get to keep
their leaves all year. The alternate leaves of E. campanulatus,
clustered at the end of each stem, will turn brilliant yellow,
red, and orange before they fall to the ground in late fall,
but for now they're green and the plant itself is relatively
unadorned. A little later in the season brown fruits will appear
on spidery stems where once there were flowers. The seeds themselves
are hard to spot, but if you do break open the fruit and find
one, you'll recognize it by its tiny wings.
It's the shape of the flowers that gave this genus its name.
Enkianthus combines two Greek words meaning swollen--the connotation
is the kind of belly characteristic of pregnancy--and flower,
respectively. The common name--redvein--describes the creamy
white flowers that are marked with red lines. The fact that
they look like little bells names the species, as campanulatus
is Latin for "bell-shaped." There are only a dozen
other species of Enkianthus, and they are all native to the
hillsides of north Asia.
The flowers of E. campanulatus will remind you of the ones
you've seen on the evergreen Pieris. The two are closely related,
both belonging to the Ericaceae family and both native to the
same regions. Enkianthus includes no North American natives,
but both Pieris and Rhododendron do. The heath family is a
well-traveled lot. The members put down roots around the world,
wherever they find the cool temperatures and rocky, acid soils
they need to thrive.
Your enkianthus will insist on acid soil and a regular supply
of moisture plus good drainage. Where rhodies and camellias
thrive, enkianthus will too. In our climate, full sun in the
morning and a bit of shade in the afternoon during summer is
just about perfect. You'll have no pruning chores, because
enkianthus has a very nice form on its own: an upright stem
with orderly, offshooting branches forming a series of layered
planes that are very pleasing, structurally, in the winter
garden. The branches can reach out three to four feet from
the center of the plant, so give it room--even though you'll
find it grows very slowly--and count on a height of as much
as ten feet. Too big for your yard? Seek out smaller cultivars.
There are several very attractive ones available. E. campanulatus
'Red Bells' has flowers that live up to their name and brilliant
fall color, and grows to its mature size of three-by-six feet
in perhaps fifteen years.
In addition to its year-round beauty, E. campanulatus is favored
by sensible gardeners who choose plants least likely to succumb
to the first nasty creature or malady that appears on the scene.
Here's what Carl Salsedo, Extension Educator with the University
of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System has to say about
"There really are not any plants that are truly not susceptible
to insect and diseases. There are a number of plants that appear
less prone to insect and disease damage. For example, shrubs
such as smokebush, Bayberry, Highbush blueberry, Chokeberry,
enkianthus, fothergilla, oak leaf hydrangea, blue holly, winterberry,
spice bush and American cranberry bush are somewhat disease
and insect proof. Trees such as Hinoki Cypress, white fringe
tree, ginkgo (Gingko biloba), blue atlas cedar, amur maple,
concolor fir, cedar of Lebanon, and katsura trees are also
somewhat disease and insect proof."
A number of great choices for our gardens, don't you think?
If you'd like to read more of what Mr. Salsedo has to say about
sustainable landscaping for water quality, just travel to http://www.canr.uconn.edu/sustainability/sustain/sustainfact.html.
Lest you think that what's good for Connecticut might not
be good for Washington--and in some cases you'd be right--consider
that Enkianthus campanulatus is one of the Great Plant Picks
chosen under the auspices of the Elisabeth Carey Miller Botanical
Garden in Seattle. You can read more about this organization
and the other featured plants at http://www.greatplantpicks.org/index.php.