The LSU AgCenter has chosen an outstanding native shrub as one of its Louisiana Super Plants selection for spring 2017.

Henry’s Garnet Virginia willow (Itea virginiana Henry’s Garnet) is a native shrub that adapts very well to landscape cultivation and is reliable and easy to grow.

I encourage Louisiana gardeners to use plants native to the Gulf Coast region in their landscapes whenever possible. The Gulf Coast region includes east Texas, Louisiana, south Mississippi, south Alabama, south Georgia and the panhandle and upper peninsula of Florida.

The best reason is that it gives our landscapes a sense of place. Using plants native to our region links our landscapes to natural areas and the plants they contain. Native plants provide several benefits to the landscape:

  • They bring interest, natural beauty and diversity to the landscape.
  • They can play an important role in providing food for native pollinators and wildlife.
  • They are well adapted to the Louisiana climate and are generally tolerant (not immune) of common pest problems.
  • They simply provide a sense of satisfaction that many of us get by using native plants.

Not all native plants adapt well to typical landscape conditions, and some can be downright fussy. Virginia willow, also known as Virginia sweetspire, is not one of those. It is tough, easygoing and not at all demanding. It deserves to be planted far more commonly than it is.

Henry’s Garnet has a long and proven track record in Louisiana. It was introduced to the nursery trade by the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College in 1982. The original seedling was collected in Georgia by Josephine Henry and given to the arboretum for evaluation.

Michael Dirr, a University of Georgia horticulturist, suggested the cultivar name the arboretum gave to this selection of Virginia willow. Henry’s refers to Josephine Henry and Garnet refers to Swarthmore’s school color (not the shrub’s fall foliage, as is often noted). All of the Henry’s Garnet Virginia willows are clones of this original plant propagated through cuttings and division.

While all Virginia willows make beautiful and reliable landscape plants, the Henry’s Garnet cultivar has two characteristics that set it apart. The flowers are slightly larger than the standard species, and…