Saturday, June 7, 2008

Bush of many colours. Well, two.

This is eastern nine-bark, Physocarpus opulifolius, a horticultural variety known as "Diablo," for its dark purple leaves. But what gives? Some of the leaves are green.

Aside: It's called nine-bark because the bark peels off, showing several layers at once.

Back to colour: On this bush, most of the branches bear purple leaves; even the flower buds are purplish.

Other branches bear only green leaves, and green-budded flowers, thus resemble the wild-type of the species, if that's the correct term. It seems that whatever genetic change(s) resulted in the creation of a purple-leafed form is switched off in some branches (where, both anatomically and cellularly, I don't know.) Any plant geneticist out there who can explain this?

In any case, it is an attractive plant, but it grows very fast, reaching twelve feet within a few years. It has long, arching branches that reach over fences and have the potential to irk neighbours who fiercely defend their airspace. Just thought you should know. (I spend a lot of time pruning.)


themanicgardener said...

We have this in the woods on lower slopes around Bozeman. ("Lower" here in SW Montana means around 5000 ft.) It's very pretty, but interests (and bothers) me most because it so closely resembeles currant bushes. To me, an avid fruit-gatherer and maker-of-jam, it's almost a fake currant--a currant bush without the fruit. Fortunately, they grow in very different places: the nine-bark on drier slopes, the currants by streams. You can't pick currants if you're afraid of getting your feet wet.

Do you have it in your garden proper?

Hugh said...


Yes, I have it in my garden (sea-level suburbia) and it does frighteningly well. I thought its dark leaves would be a nice contrast to an old established Rhododendron. It has overwhelmed the rhodo. I have a red-flowering currant too that suffers in mid-summer amid other shrubs that thrive. Perhaps it needs more frequent watering.