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Distylium, a New Low-Maintenance Shrub

Sometimes skeletons are lovely. Most of the time we ignore the skeletons in our gardens, those sturdy background plants that give structure to the garden and that support more exciting specimens. These may be trees or shrubs, and often they are evergreen. We walk past them, but how floppy would the garden be without good bones?

One may think of Distylium as a skeleton plant, but newly introduced cultivars are worth more than a passing glance. The shrubs all have beautiful form and are good alternatives to plants like cherry laurel, indian hawthorne, juniper, and boxwood. Never heard of Distylium? Neither had I until this year, but for me it was love at first sight, despite a name that hints of illegal booze-making. 

Distylium is a member of the witch hazel (Hamamelidaceae) family, and the resemblance is seen in the tiny red flowers that appear in late winter and early spring. Don't expect to be thrilled by the blooms, if you happen to notice them. The beauty of distylium is the shrub's nicely elongated, evergreen leaves, which lie in a herringbone pattern.

Dystilium is a native of eastern and southeatern Asia, consisting of about 18 species of evergreen shrubs and trees. There are three Dystilium hybrids recently introduced to the United States. 'Vintage Jade' is the one I acquired. The lustrous, arching foliage has a bluish cast. It grows only to about two feet tall, but will spread to five to six feet wide. It can be used as a ground cover, as a low hedge, or as a border along paths.Distilium 'Vintage Jade'

Distylium 'Blue Cascade' is another introduction that has a nicely cascading habit. It grows about 3 feet high by 4 feet wide. This one has matt, blue-green leaves. It is a nice accent plant or can be planted as a hedge.

Distylium 'Emerald Heights' has an upright, dense form, growing to 5 feet tall and wide. It has dark green, glossy foliage. It makes a great privacy fence or hedge.

One reason I am attracted to this plant is its ease of care. Distylium is both drought tolerant and wet soil tolerant, though it grows best in well-drained, slightly acid soil. It likes sun to partial shade, and it is not bothered by diseases or pests. Growing in hardiness zones 6b-9, it takes both heat and cold. It sounds as good as it looks! 

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Reader Comments (14)

I can see why you picked this one. It has a nice shape and compact size. It kind of reminds me of Boxwood, with bigger/longer leaves and an interesting growth pattern. Lovely shrub!

March 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPlantPostings

They do look as good as they sound!

March 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Deb - Thanks for keeping us up-to-date on new introductions.

March 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Jones

By the title, I thought your post would be on images like in your banner, I was wrong too. Bones in the garden play such an important role, especially in our climate. Today the garden looks lovely in 6 inches of snow, but it does seem like Spring is on hold here. The plant you profiled is a nice addition, especially in the shorter size. Compact, lower growing plants with a bit of spread can add a different layer to the garden.

March 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

It's a lovely little shrub, I wonder if we have a native version growing around here, because it looks familiar.


March 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

I also see why you like this...lovely green with a flower...almost a flowering boxwood. Perfect!

March 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

That shrub's versatility is rivaled only by its beauty. And easy care is a bonus. Enjoy.

March 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLee May

Nope, never heard of Distylium, but thanks for the introduction! I suppose you use them in the same way as I do with my three Sarcococcas - evergreen, trouble free, maintenance free, just a backdrop, except for in January/February when they burst in to lovely, scented flowers. Distylium even looks a bit like Sarcococcas from your photo, beautiful.

March 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHelene

This looks a lovely shrub debbie, I hope it has been introduced here, I would love to try it. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

March 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

What a cool plant, Deb! I love Witch Hazel and this is from the same family. I could take a chance with it - we are Zone 5a - unless it's super expensive. I may not even be able to find it b/c it's not our Zone but I'll keep my eye out. Thanks!

March 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAstrid

I've been noticing this in the garden centers lately. It is a beauty. I hope it lives up to its billing. You never know with these newcomers.

I hadn't heard of this plant before. It's lovely! I especially like 'Vintage Jade'.

March 31, 2014 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

tomorrow I must check. I think I have a plant with a zig zag stem and alternating leaves

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Studer

I've seen this shrub before and I really like. I wish I had a spot to add one. It has a feeling of casual elegance.

April 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa
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