Shrub of the Week: Chinese Leptodermis

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{This Shrub of the Week article and its photos are from Paul Snyder of OSU's Secrest Arboretum at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster.}

  Have you ever had someone come to you looking for a particular plant, and then begin listing all the characteristics they are looking for? “It needs to be dwarf, have lots of flowers all summer, not be messy, and it can’t have thorns…” We have all been there, and we have all thought “With all those requirements you can’t really grow anything but perhaps poison ivy.”

  We often receive questions like this at Secrest, and if I’m honest, it can difficult even for plant experts to find the ‘perfect plant’ given the criteria (they always have to add dwarf as a caveat…).  My goal is to give you one plant that you can recommend to people (and maybe you’ll plant one for yourself). This is truly one plant that will add to your landscape all summer.

  Leptodermis oblonga, Chinese Leptodermis, is little-known (Michael Dirr apparently doesn’t know about it because he didn’t include it in his manual.) in the industry. Outside of Secrest and other public gardens, I have only observed it used once in a commercial landscape. 


Chinese leptodermis


  Leptodermis oblonga, a member of the Rubiaceae Family―the coffee family (Since we can’t grow coffee here we might as well plant this!), is native to China, and grows 18-24” tall and wide. Tubular lavender flowers are produced on new wood. It blooms heavily in June and then throughout the season until frost, a real treat for pollinators. The small habit of this plant combined with its fine texture makes it a perfect addition to the front of the bed or small residential lots.

  It will form a small colony (up to 24” wide) and does not self-seed. It should be planted in full sun to part shade, and moist but well-drained soil for best performance. Leptodermis does not tolerate wet soils. In addition, there are no known insect or disease problems. It is, however, late to leaf out in the spring, so be patient!

  From a production standpoint, Leptodermis is easy to root from cuttings (2 weeks at the most) and produces a saleable plant in a single season. Now, the next time someone asks for the ‘perfect plant’ you can recommend Leptodermis oblonga.