I found it! My own, very rare Croton alabamensis is now planted in Deb's Garden.
I became attracted to this plant earlier in the year while researching Alabama native shrubs. The Alabama croton grows wild in only a few counties of Alabama and possibly one in Tennessee. A similar plant also grows in Texas. In the Euphorbiacea family, it's a quirky shrub that looks good in natural woodlands, but it also has appeal to the plant collector as a specimen. Don't we always want what is hard to get?
It's not for sale in most nurseries, and I couldn't find it on the internet, either. But I was like a bloodhound, sniffing out its apple scented leaves (when crushed) when I discovered a stand of them only a few miles from my house. More than a dozen grow in an undisturbed part of Aldridge Gardens, where I sometimes volunteer as a docent/tour guide. It may be one of the largest groupings in the state, and thus the world! I was delighted the plant would be offered at a shrub sale to benefit the gardens.
I think it would be easy to walk past the plant and not appreciate it, but there is a lot to like about Alabama croton, if one happens to look. It grows four to eight feet high and wide in a loose, open habit similar to native azaleas, and it takes on a broadly rounded shape with age. From about February to April, clusters of yellow-green flowers bloom on the end of twigs. They are odd little flowers that remind me of sea anemones. The most distinctive thing about Alabama croton is the silvery scales that cover the leaves and twigs. Lustrous new leaves are deep green on top, but the undersides look like they have been spray painted silver. Semi-evergreen, older leaves turn rich orange in the fall, providing an amazing contrast to the metallic undersides. The following photos demonstrates the form, as well as the leaves of my Alabama croton. (By the way, the stumps in the background of the photo on the left are old oak stumps from giant trees brought down by a tornado in 1990. After all these years, the stumps still provide shelter and food for countless organisms.)The following photos were taken of more mature specimens at Aldridge Gardens:
Alabama croton grows naturally on limestone bluffs and will tolerate dry, poor soil, though it will also prosper in well drained, organic soil. It likes some shade but is heat and draught tolerant and will grow in zones 6-8. While rare in the wild, Alabama croton deserves to be planted in more gardens and is worth the effort to find one.