This site is for people who like plants -- growers, enthusiasts, aesthetes, novices and professionals, those who appreciate wild things and those who appreciate the cultivated. I garden in Chelsea, and I've been visiting people's yards for 20+ years in the course of my work. My goal is to make this blog a community project, so if you share my interests, please consider becoming a participant and contributing content -- Guerin. Info:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A prickly not-an-ash

Prickly-ash as an ornamental plant? Well, yeah, why not? Especially if you can put it full sun, like the large hedge/clone I encountered south of Ypsilanti yesterday.

In case you aren't familiar with it, prickly-ash is not an ash. It's a native clonal shrub, and it is a bit prickly. Without any striking features (usually), it gets passed by without notice, but chances are you've brushed against it on occasion. 

Now that your attention has been inescapably grabbed by those opening remarks, here's some really cool things about it. It's one of those subtropical things that sent a emissary up north to test out our cold winters. Taste the fruit. It's a lime! Now spit out the fruit because you're going to be salivating heavily for the next 30 minutes while your mouth goes to sleep. Now look down at that drool on your t-shirt. What a mess. Now wipe up the drool.

Another feature: the leaves provide food for the larvae of the great swallowtail butterfly, a beautiful insect as a winged adult (but looking identical to bird dropping as a larva).

So let's hear it for this scratch-and-sniff underdog. (Yeah.) Compound leaves, alternately arranged with the occasional set of weak prickles along the midrib; reddish hairy buds; all parts (especially the fruit) with an aromatic citrus-y aroma and taste; clonal suckering habit. Zanthoxylum americanum in the literature. It is one of just a couple native representatives of the interesting and important Rutaceae family. Speaking of which . . . I need the herb Ruta graveolens (rue) for my garden, but I never see it at the markets. It is the national plant of Lithuania, where they sing songs about it and place it on the desks of judges to ward off witches and evil spirits. If you run into it, let me know. (Thank you Laura for coming through on this for me!).

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