Posts Tagged ‘shrub’

Possomhaw Holly – Ilex deciduas

Possumhaw Holly
Possumhaw Holly

O reader! hast thou ever stood to see
The Holly-tree?
The eye that contemplates it well perceives
Its glossy leaves
Ordered by an Intelligence so wise
As might confound the Atheist’s sophistries.


By Robert Southey (1774-1843)

 This native of low, wet woods can be found throughout the southeast United States. It is one of the deciduous hollies, meaning it loses its leaves come winter. It is state listed as Threatened in Florida. The largest specimen found to date is located in South Carolina. It measures 3 feet around, and 42 feet tall!


The berries are generally considered toxic to humans. The low level toxicity causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. But all manner of small mammals, songbirds, and gamebirds, as well as deer find parts of this bush good eating. The deer being the only one to eat the twigs; all the others find the berries to be a delicacy.


Because of those same berries it is often planted as a winter ornamental, and a wildlife attractant. The branches with the berries have been collected to use in Christmas decorations. The wood of this shrub is not considered useful due to its small size.


Hollies in general (including this one) were used by the Alabama Indians. They took the inner bark of the tree, made a decoction from it and applied this to the eyes.  

Elderberry – Sambucus canadensis

Elder berries
Elder berries

“Elder be ye lady’s tree.

Burn it not, or cursed ye’ll be.”


This common form of Elder is found only east of the Rockies, and south through eastern Mexico all the way to Panama. Here is the east of North America It can be found as far north as Nova Scotia and as far south as Florida. It tends to be found most frequently in moist areas along riverbanks, along roadways and in woods and thickets where it tends to stay moist.


All parts of Elder are Toxic except for the berries, but there is a bonus to the calcium oxalate crystals found in the leaves. If the leaves are dried and crumbled and scattered in the garden, they will act as an insecticide. In humans the leaves, twigs, and roots can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even coma if they are consumed. So used care when using them!


The berries and flowers have been used in both medicine and as food. It is recommended that the berries be cooked before consumption as some folks tend to get nauseous from them also! The elder berries are diuretic (removing excess fluid) and also detoxifying, and people consume them to lose weight. The berries can be used in infusion or tincture internally to treat colds, flu and asthma. Externally to treat swellings, rashes, and frostbite like trauma to skin (called chilblains).

Old Fashioned Weigela – Weigela florida

Old Fashioned Weigela flowers & leaves
Old Fashioned Weigela flowers & leaves

This native of Southeast Asia loves full sun, but will tolerate some shade….It just flowers far better in full sun. They produce trumpet shaped flowers in pink, white or red, which attract hummingbirds in late May, early June. This shrub was first discovered in Korea and China by William Fortune in 1845 and brought back to Europe, where it immediately became a garden favorite.

It has no reference to herbal medicine or food uses that could be currently found. It is generally considered non-toxic, also causing little or no allergic response ion most people.

This shrub is listed as deer resistant. It is also a food plant for the larvae of some Lepidoptera species (moths and butterflies), including the Brown-tail. As stated earlier it is attractive to hummingbirds when in flower, but it also attracts butterflies on the wing.

Atlantic Ninebark – Physocarpus opulifolius

Atlantic Nine Bark leaves
Atlantic Nine Bark leaves

This lovely shrub is native to Eastern North America, and produces clusters of tiny white flowers, followed by bright red fruit. It is noted for its exfoliating bark, which is most notable in winter after the leaves have fallen and the bush is dormant. The bark peels in several layers exposing reddish down through brown bark on the older stems, this is how the common name of Ninebark was given.

The Common Ninebark was used by various Native American Tribes for medicine, food, dye, or even in magic! The Bella Coola Indians used a decoction of the inner bark as an emetic (causing vomiting) by people “dizzy with pain.” They also used it as a laxative, TB remedy, and as a treatment for gonorrhea. The Southern Carrier and the Chippewa also used the inner bark as an emetic); with the Iroquois and Menominee using the bark as a gynecological aid.

As a dye the ninebark would be added to Cedar bark to darken the cedar dye to brown. Other varieties of Ninebark were used to make toys, and their fruits were eaten raw! In magic the Mallow Ninebark was used in bad medicine to cause other people bad luck.

Dwarf Korean Lilac – Syringa meyeri

Dwarf Koroean Lilac

Dwarf Koroean Lilac

Just now the lilac is in bloom
All before my little room;
And in my flower beds I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And from the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow.

—Rupert Brooke

This lilac is native to Southeast Asia, specifically Korea and China. It tends to be smaller than other lilac with a maximum bush height of 4-8’ tall/ Like most Lilacs it is sweetly fragrant and when massed together the scent can get overpowering. Its bloom time for Zone 7 is late April to May.

Like other Lilacs this one can be used in medicine, with the leaves and fruit used as anti-periodi, febrifuge, and tonic. It was used for centuries as a successful treatment for malarial type symptoms. When it can to America it was used as a vermifuge (expelling intestinal worms).

In Chinese Traditional Medicine it is called Qu Mai and is used to treat urinary infections, dysuria (painful urination), and to stimulate menstrual discharge.

Jeanne Rose has a nice article about Lilacs and extracting the scent from the flower for use as a perfume. (

American Bittersweet – Celastrus scandens

Winter American Bittersweet
Winter American Bittersweet

The winter bittersweet shows as a tangle of vines with bright orange-red berries with what appears to be a cap of yellow. The fruit sits on the vine through much of the winter proving to be a survival food in late winter for songbirds, ruffed grouse, pheasants, bobwhite, and squirrels. The white tailed deer, and cotton tailed rabbits also find the foliage and stems very tasty.

King’s American Dispensatory reveals how Celastrus scandens came to be thought of as bitter-sweet, remarking that “The bark has a bitter, afterward sweetish, rather nauseous taste.” This taste may reveal the fact that all parts of the plant is poisonous, but especially the seeds. It was known to “Clean you out at both ends.’… describes most of the symptoms of poisoning, which are vomiting, diarrhea and eventual loss of consciousness.

Even with the toxicity the inner bark was at one time used as starvation food. In medicinal use the Native American tribes used the bark externally in an ointment for the treatment of burns, scrapes, and skin eruptions. The root is diaphoretic, diuretic, and emetic. Although rarely used in modern times it was used for the treatment of chronic liver and skin conditions, rheumatism, leucorrhea, dysentery and suppressed menses.

Korean Sweetheart Tree – Euscaphis japonica

Korean Sweetheart Tree
Korean Sweetheart Tree

The hardly known tree was brought to the attention of nurserymen in 1985 by JC Raulston who, on a trip to the Korean Peninsula, brought the original seed lot back to the National Arboretum.  The plant has no common name in English, but Don Shadow has bestowed the name ‘Korean Sweetheart Tree’ on the tree due to the heart shaped red berries it forms in the fall. These berries then open to reveal shiny black seeds.

Young buds of the tree are consumed in Korea, and the roots and dry fruits are used medicinally. The wood is used for making furniture, oil from the seeds is used for making soap, and tannin is extracted from the bark. Birds and wildlife find the fruit appetizing.