Lovely Leucothoe

Leucothoe 'Rainbow' in Winter in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Leucothoe ‘Rainbow’ in Winter (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Are you looking for a smaller shrub that stays evergreen throughout the winter, has interesting form and foliage, and doesn’t require a lot of pampering? With a little deer resistance, to boot?  Perhaps you would consider a highly underused, sweetheart of a shrub called leucothoe.  Pronounced Lu-Koth-O-EE, this delightful garden companion works well with others, and will charm you through all four seasons.  

Leucothoe 'Rainbow' early buds in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Leucothoe ‘Rainbow’ early buds (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Leucothoe fontanesiana, also known as drooping fetterbush, is a southern U.S. native (zone 5-9 hardy) that likes partial shade, preferably protected from wind and the harsher afternoon sun.  It will tolerate most soil conditions, but don’t let it dry out.  A relatively slow grower, in a garden setting it may grow up to 5′ tall and wide, depending on the cultivar.  Its leisurely growth rate is a plus in my book, one less shrub to continually have to prune to keep under control.  Instead, drooping fetterbush remains content within the boundaries you allow it.

Leucothoe 'Rainbow' with alchemilla mollis in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Leucothoe ‘Rainbow’ with alchemilla mollis (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

When spring arrives, the dainty bell shaped alabaster flowers (similar to mountain laurel and enkianthus) emerge in clusters at the end of each limb.  Although not fragrant, their appearance is quite enchanting and magical.  You almost expect to see Tinkerbelle fluttering about looking for a spot to linger. And the bewitching traits doesn’t end there, because all your favorite spring bloomers will coordinate their displays with companion leucothoe.  As if following the lead of an orchestra conductor, my Alchemilla mollis (ladies mantle), rhododendron and peonies simultaneously come into bloom when leucothoe’s tiny bells chime.

As the seasons progress, leucothoe’s foliage looses the earlier rosy tinges, but remains attractive with glossy, oblong leaves ranging in shades of lighter and darker green.  The tapered leaf shape accentuates the weeping form and provides a wonderful contrast to surrounding plantings.

Leucothoe in summer in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Leucothoe in summer (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

For foliage choices, you can choose from Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’, with cream and pink accents on the leaves, or the slightly smaller (2′ tall by 4′ wide) Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Zeblid’, commonly known as Scarletta Fetterbush, with burgundy coloring that turns bronze in the fall.  Whichever shrub you choose, leucothoe is worthy of a spot in your shady garden this year.  Many local nurseries will carry them, or visit: and give one a try!


  1. Wonderful testimonial from Ms. Martin. I couldn’t agree more!

  2. Thanks for this post, I have been considering Leucothoe for a difficult spot, you have bumped it a few places up the list of possibles!
    Lovely blog

    • Thank you for your kind words, Anne. I’ve been gardening in this challenging spot of Connecticut for over twenty years, and I like to share plants that have been reliable for me over the years with fellow gardeners. I wish you great success no matter what you decide on! (P.S. I love the photo you took of a spider on the white tulip on your blog-)~Kathy

Speak Your Mind