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Home News Top-performing Morton Arboretum shrub hits market

Top-performing Morton Arboretum shrub hits market

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The Virginia sweetspire blooms from mid-June to early July and has good pest resistance.

Staff | March 10, 2011

LISLE, Ill. – To a gardener, summer doldrums might mean that trees and other plants are finished blooming. But now, there’s a new shrub on the market that’ll help gardeners stay upbeat about summer. The Morton Arboretum has just introduced a Virginia sweetspire that blooms from mid-June to early July, when few other plants are in flower.

“This is a time-proven shrub that’s been in the Arboretum collections since 1958, and has been a top performer all along,” said Kris Bachtell, Arboretum horticulturist and vice president of collections and facilities.

The plant, whose formal name is Itea virginica ‘Morton’ – Morton Virginia Sweetspire – SCARLET BEAUTY, grows 3- to 4-feet tall and 4-feet wide in a five-to six-year period. It sports white flowers with a delicate fragrance, in dense clusters on 3-inch-long stems. The flowers attract butterflies, and Bachtell said the plant has excellent pest resistance. This particular selection is more cold-hardy than most other sweetspire selections. The species is native to the southeastern United States, including southern Illinois.

Itea virginica ‘Morton’ is not only a late bloomer, it also brings up the rear on the fall color season, with lovely, scarlet-red foliage that peaks in early November and lasts through a hard frost.

Chicagoland Grows, a partnership between The Morton Arboretum, Chicago Botanic Garden and the Ornamental Growers Association of Northern Illinois, is bringing the new plant to market. The organization develops, evaluates and selects trees and other plants that are suitable for upper Midwest growing conditions. After a selection is made, botanical gardens, universities, and municipal forests vigorously test it. If the selection performs well, propagators grow the plant and it is introduced on a limited basis to wholesale and retail nurseries. If the plant’s performance remains high, Chicagoland Grows conducts a full release to nurseries, as it has now done with Itea virginica ‘Morton.’

Another Arboretum-developed selection, Acer miyabei ‘Morton’ – Morton Miyabe maple STATE STREET, has just earned the 2011 Woody Ornamental Plant of the Year Award from the Wisconsin Nursery Association. This medium-sized shade tree is oval shaped with dark green glossy leaves. The association calls this maple an “excellent street tree and a great replacement for ash and Norway maples.” Like the sweetspire, this maple was introduced through Chicagoland Grows.
 

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