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This is one of our showiest plants throughout the year, although these shrubs are so rare that few Islanders have had the chance to see them. Growing to a height of 6 feet (2 m), hobblebush has opposite, velvety buds that develop into large, heart-shaped leaves which turn bronze in the fall. The flowers form large, flat clusters and are very white. The berries turn a very attractive cranberry red in late August and finally purple-black when fully ripe.
Like so many of our rare plants, these favour shade and rich soil and are usually found in mixed wood stands.
The easiest way to grow this shrub is from seed. When ripe in mid-to-late September, the fruits are mashed by hand in a bucket of water. The pulp floats to the top, while the clean seeds sink to the bottom.
Plant these every 2 inches (5 cm) in rows 4 inches (10 cm) apart, at a depth of 1/4 inch (6 mm). Seeds generally take two years to germinate and should be lightly mulched and given light shade.
Any that germinate the first summer should be transplanted to a separate nursery bed under light shade and mulched well.
Hobblebush produces heavy crops of berries, which are used by ruffed grouse, pine grosbeak, Swainson’s thrush, and other fruit-eating birds. Although it is not listed as a preferred food by most wildlife manuals, for several years now the heavy seed crops have vanished quite quickly, so they obviously are favoured by some birds, as well as squirrels and chipmunks. and chipmunks.
Areas of Usage:
A premier landscape plant if you have any shade at all around your home, especially given its attractiveness throughout the year. It works best in a naturalized situation, perhaps in a wild area under larger trees. It is also important in woodland plantings, not only for its beauty but for its heavy seed crops for wildlife and the diversity it provides.
The names hobblebush and trip-toe come from the plant’s habit of tip-layering, a strategy for vegetative reproduction. Hobblebush develops a good number of large showy flowers which end up as attractive berries which bird will spread throughout the woods. To hedge their bets, they also propagate vegetatively but not through underground rhizomes. Their drooping branches can sprout roots as they bend and touch the moist forest soils, eventually rooting in place and developing into a separate but cloned shrub. The name becomes obvious when you find a well-developed patch in the woods. As you walk amongst the shrubs you’ll be tripping over the curved branches, truly “hobbling” your gait.