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Coastal Witch-alder Fothergilla gardenii

Other Common Name(s):

Phonetic Spelling
foth-er-GIL-lah gar-DEN-ee-eye
Description

Coastal witch-alder is a low maintenance deciduous shrub in the Hamamelidaceae (witch-hazel) family that is native to the coastal plains of the southern United States. In the wild, it is apt to grow in wet savannas, pocosins, baygalls, and bogs. The shrub is named for John Fothergill, British physician and botanist who died in 1780. The specific name honors Alexander Garden (1730-1791), a Scottish physician and plant enthusiast who lived in South Carolina and introduced the plant to England.

It grows best in rich moist, slightly acidic, sandy loam soils in full sun to partial or dappled shade. While the flower display and fall color are often best in full sun the shrub overall does better with some afternoon shade.  It will tolerate wet soils and compaction yet is also drought tolerant. The shrub begins with a rounded habit growing 3 to 6 feet high by 2 to 6 feet wide. Over time if suckers are not removed it will colonize other areas of the landscape.  Propagate this shrub by stem cuttings as the seeds are difficult to germinate.

Coastal witch-alder has no petals; the showy part of its flowers are its aromatic stamens which resemble bottle brushes and emerge before the leaves in the spring. The blue-green leathery leaves turn to vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows providing knock out color in the fall landscape depending on the growing conditions.

Bees, and pollinators are attracted to this honey-scented shrub, making it an ideal addition to pollinator, native, or children’s gardens. It also works well planted along a foundation, as a specimen plant in a woodland or cottage garden or grouped in mass to create an informal, low hedge. 

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  No significant problems. 

VIDEO Created by Elizabeth Meyer for "Trees, Shrubs and Conifers" a plant identification course offered in partnership with Longwood Gardens.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Beaver Creek'
    2 to 3 feet tall bright yellow to red fall color
  • 'Blue Mist'
    2 to 3 feet tall blue leaf color but fall color not as showy
  • 'Mount Airy'
    4 to 5 feet tall and wide large flowers intense fall color
'Beaver Creek', 'Blue Mist', 'Mount Airy'
Tags:
#fragrant flowers#drought tolerant#specimen#native shrub#tsc#fall interest#cottage garden#mass planting#playground#hedges#cpp#NC native#deer resistant#children's garden#foundation planting#hairy leaves#pollinator plant#leathery leaves#late spring flowers#mid-spring flowers#food source nectar#food source pollen#Coastal FACW#Piedmont Mountains FACW#small group plantings#compact habit#wet soils tolerant#bird friendly#nectar plant late spring#nectar plant mid-spring#tsc-s#bee friendly#fall color orange-red#audubon#woodland garden
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Beaver Creek'
    2 to 3 feet tall bright yellow to red fall color
  • 'Blue Mist'
    2 to 3 feet tall blue leaf color but fall color not as showy
  • 'Mount Airy'
    4 to 5 feet tall and wide large flowers intense fall color
'Beaver Creek', 'Blue Mist', 'Mount Airy'
Tags:
#fragrant flowers#drought tolerant#specimen#native shrub#tsc#fall interest#cottage garden#mass planting#playground#hedges#cpp#NC native#deer resistant#children's garden#foundation planting#hairy leaves#pollinator plant#leathery leaves#late spring flowers#mid-spring flowers#food source nectar#food source pollen#Coastal FACW#Piedmont Mountains FACW#small group plantings#compact habit#wet soils tolerant#bird friendly#nectar plant late spring#nectar plant mid-spring#tsc-s#bee friendly#fall color orange-red#audubon#woodland garden
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Fothergilla
    Species:
    gardenii
    Family:
    Hamamelidaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    coastal plains o souther US.
    Wildlife Value:
    Bees nectar at these flowers, as do other pollinators.
    Play Value:
    Wildlife Food Source
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Drought tolerant. Will tolerate wet soil.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 3 ft. 0 in. - 6 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 2 ft. 0 in. - 6 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Shrub
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Rounded
    Spreading
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Dappled Sunlight (Shade through upper canopy all day)
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Occasional Flooding
    Occasionally Wet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8b, 8a
  • Fruit:
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Description:
    Fruit is an ornamentally insignificant, two-seeded, beaked capsule that matures in fall (September to October) ejecting its black seeds.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    White
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    Male flowers only are showy 1-2 in. creamy white flowers in spring with a sweet honey fragrance; April through May, flowers appear before leaves. Flowers smell like honey.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Blue
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Leathery
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Orange
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Oblong
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Alternate, simple, ovate hairy, leathery blue-green to dark green leaves; 1-2.5 in. long. Slighly toothed upper margin smooth on the lower half and a quilted bumpy appearance. Orange, yellow to scarlet fall color.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Description:
    Buds are very hairy
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Children's Garden
    Cottage Garden
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Foundation Planting
    Hedge
    Mass Planting
    Small groups
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Pollinators
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Compaction
    Deer
    Wet Soil