First, let’s establish that we at The Gardenist don’t deliberately choose impossible-to-source plants for our Plant of the Week. It may appear that way. But name me an interesting plant that isn’t getting harder to find?
Then following that unapologetic but probably ineffective attempt to avert criticism by acknowledging the problem before you can point it out, on to this week’s feature plant – Itea ilicifolia.
Itea ilicifolia is a medium sized evergreen shrub that bears, in the height of summer, long catkin-like racemes of honey-scented greenish flowers. If that doesn’t immediately arouse your interest (which it should, as there aren’t that many really interesting medium sized evergreen shrubs, and even less that flower in mid summer, and still fewer with scent), then I should add that these flower racemes hang all over the plant so that its glossy, mid-green holly-like foliage looks like it’s draped with pendulous decorations, with the weighty vertical emphasis of foot-long strings of beads from a Christmas tree. It’s a perfect design combination of billowing, amorphous outline scattered with vertical lines as precise as a plumb-bob.
I’ve trawled through my migraine-inducing photo library looking for a full pic, and find that I don’t have one. So a bit of homework. Do a Google search for images. You’ll want one.
I’d only seen plants in the UK at about 1.5-1.8 metres, so specified a couple of Itea ilicifolia for a moderate sized garden bed on the south side of a house about 20 years ago. I revisited a few years later to find them nearly up at the eaves. I can’t imagine that they’d get that big in a more exposed spot. I’ve seen so few adult specimens that I’m guessing a bit about exactly what conditions they like. There’s not a lot of info available on the internet or in reference books, but it looks like their preference is for a reasonable amount of water, in a somewhat sun-and-wind sheltered spot – probably the kind of spot you’d put a rhododendron. That’s why mine, purchased at a Friends of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens sale about six years ago, is still in a pot, looking for a home. I don’t have such a spot, but can’t bring myself to get rid of the thing.
This may go down in our short history as the least informative of all Plant of the Week features, but given that our main aim is not so much to inform you as to nurture your curiosity, your acquisitiveness, and your desire to contribute to the collective wisdom, I consider my job done.