A Cast of Seedy Characters

Clusters of seed heads adorn this Cephalanthus occidentalis in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Clusters of seed heads adorn this Cephalanthus occidentalis (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

For those of us in seasonal climates where flowers only bloom about six months of the year, plants and shrubs with interest during the dormant months are crucial.  When limbs are bare and brown is the primary color of the landscape, evergreens can provide some form and color to an otherwise drab environment. But there’s another option for livening up your surroundings: shrubs and small trees with ornamental seed heads.  By sprinkling a few seedy characters around your property, the nearby plantings will be enhanced while often providing snacks for the local fauna through the difficult winter months as well.  Here are a few of my favorites to consider:

Button bushes winter seed heads in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Button bushes curious winter seed heads (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Cephalanthus occidentalis, commonly known as button bush or honey ball, is a multi-stemmed native shrub found in wetlands from Minnesota to Florida and from New England to California.  Often wider than tall, button bush grows from 8 to 12 feet in height, and over 20 feet wide in full sun (or light shade) and medium to wet soil, zones 4-10. Because of its love of moisture, Cephalanthus occidentalis adores a waterfront location, and will work perfectly along a stream bank, helping to control erosion while adding natural beauty to the landscape.  But don’t banish button bush from your border design, as this shrub will thrive in a garden setting (tolerates acidic or clay soils) with minimal pruning, while providing interest throughout the seasons. Fragrant ivory globes (1 inch in diameter) with antenna-like tendrils adorn this small tree in summer, inviting bees, butterflies and hummingbirds for a nutritious drink. As summer fades, the sweetly scented orbs remain as ornaments on the shrub well into the winter, turning shades of crimson and bronze, until finally consumed by local wildlife.

Magnolia stellata in Winter in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Magnolia stellata glistens in Winter (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

The commonly known star magnolia, Magnolia stellatais a stellar performer in the galaxy of magnolias.  Flowering on naked branches, the multi-petaled, whitish-pink 4″ blossoms blanket the tree in late March or early April, and with warmer temperatures, emit a wonderful fragrance that gently embraces you and invites you for a closer sniff (note: the blooms are susceptible to frost damage). This Japan native produces tropically lush leaves through the summer, and when they drop a wrinkled grey bark reminiscent of elephant skin is revealed along with stems adorned in frosty, fuzzy buds. These grey pods, similar to pussy willow but much larger, shimmer like gumdrops on each branch until they open the following spring, revealing a profusion of blossoms that welcome another spring. Perfect for the smaller landscape, Magnolia stellata tops out between 15 to 20′ tall by 10 to 15′ wide, is hardy to zones 4-8, and prefers full sun and moist, well drained soil.

Speckled Alder's ornamental tassels and seed heads in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Speckled Alder’s ornamental tassels and seed heads (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Speckled Alder,  Alnus incana, is a species of alder that ranges across the cooler parts of the Northern Hemisphere, from southern Alaska to West Virginia. Alnus incana ssp. tenufolia, or mountain alder, is native from the Continental Divide west, and to the east is Alnus incana ssp. rugosa, or speckled alder, both smaller trees that grow no more than 30 feet in zones 2-7.  A versatile tree, Alnus incana prefers consistently moist conditions, but will tolerate a wide range of soils, from sandy to gravelly, clay to loamy, and periods of flooding as well as occasional droughts. But don’t let the specked alder’s temporarily modest appearance fool you.  Like many wall flowers, Alnus incana is happy to lounge around the summer landscape, pleasantly clad in clusters of ridged, mossy green leaves with intricate serrated edges, yet winter is the time that this birch cousin finally throws caution to the wind (along with its leaves) and bares all. In a display of its finest assets, Alnus incana dazzles the landscape with a chocolate brown trunk speckled with white horizontal marks, and limbs adorned with swaying catkins and multitudes of mini cone-like seed heads glowing with amber highlights in the winter sun.

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A Garden for All