Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Wildflower Wednesday: Alabama Croton Revisited


I can clearly recall the first time I saw many of the Wildflower Wednesday stars, but, Croton alabamensis is not one of them. What I remember was how long and hard I searched for it. I was thrilled when Paul Moore, a dear friend and fellow wildflower aficionado offered a seedling to me. I clearly remember the day I drove to his garden to pick up the Alabama croton. If one can dance while driving it was certainly me.


Let me say first that Paul's garden is lovely. It sits on the top of a hill in southwest Davidson county over looking Nashville. It is a beautiful and artistically designed garden and reflects  Paul's sensibilities as a landscape photographer and a native plant lover. The wildflowers are scrumptious, as is his moss lawn! But, I digress...and will show you his garden another time.

Alabama Croton has formed a thicket in Paul's garden (1/20/14)

You get your first look at Alabama croton as you drive up the long, curving drive. There was a large planting, at least 20 feet wide and 6 feet or more deep.

February 25, 2020

It was a gorgeous thicket of silver and orange fluttering leaves; striking against the winter blue sky. It is clearly a year round beauty and I was so fortunate to be taking home a seedling for Clay and Limestone.

I wanted that thicket in my garden and planted the seedlings right were I thought they would be happiest; on a sunny slope, where it would get sun and the drainage it would need in our wet winters.

Alas, my dream did not come true, several years later the city tree trimmers dropped limbs from my poor desecrated Bur oak on top of the bed it was planted in. To add insult and further injury, the workers stomped all over the plants while picking up the limbs. I was pretty steamed and terribly sad when I came home to find it and several other plants destroyed.
There are three seedlings in the container (2/25/20)

Fast forward to now, Paul, generous friend that he is, is digging seedlings for me. When he messaged me that he had plants for me, I rushed over to get them. In case you wondered, there was happy dancing going on.

pumpkin orange fall and winter leaves
Alabama croton is endemic to a few counties in Alabama, one county in Middle Tennessee (Coffee) and three counties in faraway Texas (Croton alabamensis var. texensis/Texabama croton) and is still nearly impossible to find for sale.

Alabama Croton is the bees knees.

  • it's not deterred by dry, poor, limey soil
  • it easily braves hot summers like we've been having the past few years,
  • it will grow in decent garden soil that is well draining,
  • it grows in the full sun, but, can appreciate a semi-shady location, 
  • it's native to Middle Tennessee, 
  • it's locally sourced, and 
  • it has year round interest.
This rare, semi-evergreen southern shrub is worthy of wider use in gardens. Alabama croton is an irregular, multi-stemmed shrub that grows to 5′ tall. Its bright green foliage with striking, silvery scales beneath is attractive in summer as well as in autumn when it develops pumpkin-orange colored foliage.
Can you see the silver scales on the leaves?

It produces very few leaves, but, the ones it has are noted for their elliptic to oblong-shape and glistening silver scales and stunning autumn color. In milder winters the leaves hang on and flutter green and orange until spring.


That's exactly what you see when you visit Paul's garden.

elliptic to oblong leaves flutter in the wind

Croton alabamensis performs well in full sun to partial shade in well-drained to very dry soils. It is tolerant of slightly acidic to very alkaline soils. I've found that it needs very good drainage and that was one reason it was planted on the sloped section of the garden under the over hanging limbs of the Bur oak.

Alabama croton is a good companion when planted with Rhus aromatica, Clematis viorna, Coreopsis auriculata, Phlox divaricata, Schizachyrium scoparium, Amsonia ciliata var. tenuifolia, Coreopsis grandiflora, and Liatris microcephala.

Those companion plantings sound delightful and I have some seedlings of Amsonia, Coreopsis and Liatris to plant with it. I do hope it forms a thicket.


Even the flowers have scales  Source: E. A Smith
Mature shrubs produce 2" panicles of pale yellow blooms in the late winter or early spring. They're   highly attractive to bees and butterflies. In fact, it's a host plant for the Goatweed Leafwing butterfly.



fruits/drupes from the Wasowski Collection

The Particulars

Croton alabamensis
Common name: Alabama Croton
Family: Euphorbiaceae (Spurge Family)
Native Range: Southern United States, but found naturally occuring in only three states, Texas, Alabama and Tennessee.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b
Light: Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight) Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
Soil: Alabama croton grows naturally on limestone bluffs and will tolerate dry, poor soil. Soil rich in organic matter, with excellent drainage is also fine.
Flower Color: Gold/Yellow
Inflorescence: Raceme
Flower Bloom Time: Spring
Flower Description: Yellow-green flowers on 1-1.5" raceme.
Deciduous Leaf Color: Gray/Silver
Green Deciduous Leaf
Fall Color: Orange, persists through the winter.
Leaf Type: Simple
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Description: Apple-green leaves. The lower surface of the leaf is silvery in color. Oldest leaves turn brilliant orange in the fall.
Wildlife value: Host plant for Goatweed Leafwing butterfly/Anaea andria
Comments: Be sure it has great drainage.
Blooms already! 2/25/20

You may be wondering where you can find them. Middle Tennessee gardeners contact Terri Barnes at GroWild, they may have them or know where to find them. Alabama gardeners, try contacting  your local Native Plant Society and Texas gardeners go to Hill Country Natives.

xoxogail



Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Wildflower Wednesday.  Thank you all for joining me as we celebrate and share our marvelous and beautiful wildflowers. I hope 2020 is the year we all plant more native wildflowers for the many critters that live in and visit our gardens. Let's be sure we celebrate them every day, not just WW. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not, you can still share them. Please leave a comment and add your name to Mr Linky so others can pop over to see your Wildflower Wednesday post.



Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

8 comments:

  1. I had forgotten about this plant. I planted one shortly before we moved. I wonder if it is still alive? I will have to check. I wonder if it would grow out here in Washington state?

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    1. If you can give it good drainage, I bet it would.

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  2. Another new one for me, Gail. It is an interesting plant and those yellow blooms are reminiscent of Cornus mas flowers. Thank you for continuing to educate me!

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  3. The Brachylaena discolor I planted outside our living room window is to enjoy the leaves flickering from deepest green to silver. Mine without the autumn pumpkin sadly.

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  4. It is exciting specially those yellow blooms are reminiscent of Cornus mas flowers. I wish I too can get those seedlings of wildflower aficionado. Indeed, Pauls garden is lovely. Woods are dark and deep but I have miles to go before I sleep, goes well with the picture 😊 Keep updating!!!

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  5. Never heard of this one! Definitely an interesting plant.

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  6. What a fascinating flower. I am especially jealous of your climate right now. I've been cleaning up my garden, revealing all kinds of greenery, and yesterday we got 6 inches of snow. It is a pleasure to admire your green and gold.

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Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.