PLANT OF THE WEEK #89: Lespedeza thunbergii

I vividly remember the day I thought I had to get better acquainted with Lespedeza.  How could I forget?

That crazily magical colonnade of plane trees at Villa Melzi, each pair framing an unforgettable view of the surrounding scenery

It was a day of ridiculous perfection on Lake Como, Italy, and the garden at Villa Melzi was awash with the superb perfume of Osmanthus fragrans.  My tour group were wandering around in a stupor of scent-induced joy, and stumbled over Lespedeza in full bloom, tumbling over a wall and down the surrounding slope – a waterfall of blooms, falling to create a puddle of pink beneath.

Now I admit to have a weakness for plants with a growth habit of arching canes, such that they look weighed down with their weight of bloom, as if in luxuriant recline.  But Lespedeza took these charming qualities to the next level.

It’s an odd shrub/subshrub/perennial.  There’s nothing else you could confuse it with.  Nothing else waits until late summer/autumn to become heavily laden with pink pea flowers, nor has the combination of semi-woody arching canes, looking distinctly shrub like, but with the generosity and softness of something that appears to have grown very fast.  Perhaps, from a great distance, you might think you were looking at a very small flowered but particularly vigorous fuchsia.

As it happens, Lespedeza pretty much behaves as an herbaceous perennial, and is cut to the ground every winter to entirely replace itself by flowering time the following summer.  But it has a muscularity, or some sense of satisfying permanence, that speaks of shrub-ness, and is (apparently, though I’ve yet to really push the boundaries) both heat and drought tolerant.

Like a lot of fast growing plants that can also be cut hard every year, such as the many forms of Buddleja davidii, and Vitex agnus-castus, there’s some sense in which quality and sophistication is compromised in favour of generosity of bloom, and an obliging nature.  But if admiration is challenged at all as a consequence, it’s more than offset by a rising gratitude.

Bear in mind that you need space.  Lespedeza will grow taller than its 1.8-2m height, all depending on conditions, of course, but it seems to me like the perfect plant under which to grow spring bulbs, or the small number of early-flowering herbaceous perennials that then proceed to summer dormancy.

Oh, and it’s nearly impossible to get.  I just bought one from Dicksonia Rare Plants, and there my have been one left after that.

Me, leaning in for a deep draught of Osmanthus perfume at Villa Melzi. It’s the very scent of September in my olfactory memory

Do you have any experience of Lespedeza? Particularly keen to hear from those of you in hot, dry climates


  1. Michael I live in California and was impressed with this lovely plant. I looked up sources and it does state it is an invasive plant. Any thoughts?

    1. I’m not surprised, Diane. Though there’s no sign of it becoming so anywhere in Australia, so I thought it was pretty safe to promote it. Thanks for alerting us (and other USA readers) to the danger

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