Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Strawberry bush

We gardeners tend to be quirky people. Each of us gardens for our own individual reasons and we select plants for our gardens based on that individuality. We don't always grow plants because they are decorative or floriferous or produce a lot of tasty fruit. Sometimes we grow a plant simply because it is an interesting plant with some uses that appeal to us. That's my excuse for growing the strawberry bush, Euonymus americana.

This is a native American plant, a perennial shrub that can grow up to six feet tall. It tends to be a bit rangy in its growth. Its leaves turn dark red in autumn and my plant held on to most of those leaves throughout the winter.

Its flowers are minuscule and easily overlooked.

Here is one of its flowers, a five-petaled affair that looks like a spot of something on the leaf.

When the flowers fade, the shrub produces tiny red fruits that give the bush its common name.

Here are some of the "strawberries" on my strawberry bush. These tiny berries ripen in the fall and split to expose bright red seeds. These seeds are sometimes eaten by songbirds, although they are not as favored as some of the other wild berries.

In addition to its usefulness to wildlife, this plant has several uses to humans, as well. The seeds, for example, are a strong laxative and they have other benefits for various abdominal complaints. The bark, when brewed as a tea, is used as a diuretic, expectorant, and tonic. It has also been used in the treatment of malaria and liver complaints. The powdered bark, when applied to the scalp, supposedly eliminates dandruff!

I can't vouch for any of these medicinal uses since I haven't tried them, but I find it intriguing that one plant should have so many different functions in folk medicine. For me, though, the attraction is simply growing the plant itself as a part of a habitat garden, to observe how wildlife is attracted to it and uses it. That is the reason that I purchased my plant last fall on a trip to Buchanan's Native Plants.

So far, I'm enjoying having the plant in my garden. It bears close watching though, because it is rather unobtrusive. Thus, I walked by the plant today, glanced at it, and realized that it is in full bloom! If I had blinked, I would have missed it.

So forget about your hibiscus or azalea or that showy amaryllis. If you are looking for a quirky plant to fit your quirky gardening personality, a plant that will fit right in with a natural setting in your garden, you might consider the strawberry bush.

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