Thursday, 10 February 2011

Silk Tassel Bush...

It always seems spring is such a long time coming, but at last the earliest snowdrops are showing, and the slightly longer, brighter days are tempting the birds into song. Soon, that other welcome sign of seasonal change, the dangling catkins of wind pollinated shrubs will be lengthening and opening, shaking their loads of golden dust into the passing breeze. But for one plant at least, those pendant flower parts have been an impressive decorative feature for months...

Garrya elliptica, the ‘Silk Tassel Bush’ a native of the far west coast of America, grows wild along a narrow strip of the Californian coastline within sea breeze distance of the mighty Pacific Ocean. Though, for nearly two centuries now, its solid constitution, adaptability and winter beauty have ensured its dispersal to gardens throughout the world.

This densely clothed evergreen has tough dark shiny leaves with felted, drought resistant under-surfaces. In its natural habitat it copes well with dry conditions and salt laden winds. Over here, it will happily do the same, but also handles shadier sites without complaint. It is for its off-season flowering however that it is chiefly celebrated. Its long smooth, grey-green catkins stand out against the more sombre leaves from November onwards. Looking almost like dangling bunches of caterpillars ready to spin silken cocoons, overall they give the plant a very attractive bluish grey appearance.
In this species male and female flowers appear on separate plants, but strangely enough both take the form of catkins. The males bear the largest with the celebrated variety “James Roof” taking credit for the longest of all, measuring in at an impressive 20cm. 
 As free standing specimens they are good, but they are often seen used to strikingly best effect when wall trained. Here the branch structure can be loosely tiered up the surface giving plenty of room for those magical catkins to hang down. They get some protection from the worst, biting drying winds in this position and can be surprisingly happy even in darker north facing situations. Pruning where required is best done in early spring as the tassels begin to fade, but before the new season’s growth gets fully underway. 
These splendid shrubs are festooned with stunning silvery tassels every winter and give the garden a spectacular and extremely long lasting display when little else is available.


  1. Hurray. Sadly here in San Francisco Bay area their native habitat they are ignored and not even considered as anything more than another random native plant. Occasionally I come across them filling a hillside. They can get at least 5 meters tall. Only specialty vendors sell them. I hope they do cacth on in their home area.

  2. They are lovely at this time of year Daniel...


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