Rainbow Drooping LeucothoeLeucothoe fontanesiana 'Rainbow'
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Leucothoe fontanesiana 'Rainbow'
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun, Shade
Rainbow Drooping Leucothoe is a vibrant evergreen with glossy leaves that are mottled pink, cream and green, turning bright purple for the winter. In spring hanging clusters of white bell-shaped flowers grow from the stems at every point there is a leaf, making an attractive display. It forms a vase-shaped shrub between 3 and 5 feet tall and up to 6 feet across, but it can be trimmed annually to keep up less that 2 feet tall. It thrives in damp shade and is a variety of a native shrub, making it perfect for woodland gardens, slopes and banks, shady areas and for planting by streams and ponds.
Plant your Rainbow Drooping Leucothoe in full sun if the soil is always damp, and otherwise in partial or light full shade. It is hardy almost everywhere, and grows best in acidic, damp soils containing plenty of organic material. It is normally pest and disease free and not eaten by deer. It tolerates wet soil and coastal salt-spray, but not brackish or salty water.
Gardening in shade is always difficult – the low light levels dramatically limit the range of plants we can grow. When we do explore the potential plants for shady areas, almost all have deep green leaves. This means that shade plantings can often be all green, and since shade is already darker, the effect can be gloomy and dull – hardly the inspiring look gardeners lust after. That’s why the Rainbow Drooping Leucothoe is such a valuable plant if your shade is not too dry, and your soil is acidic. This is certainly one of the most spectacular of all evergreen shade plants, and it makes a stand-out focal point. It turns ‘drab’ into ‘dramatic’ when planting with dark-green shade plants, because the foliage is boldly mottled with creamy yellow and shades of green, overlaid with bright pink on young leaves. The bright look lasts all summer, and then for winter it becomes purple, keeping some of the white areas too, so that the winter look is different but just as bold.
This plant is native to America, so it’s perfect for wild gardens, and woodland gardens of all kinds, as well as on slopes and around water. It’s a perfect contrast plant to accompany your camellia and azalea plantings, bringing color to areas that are often dull after the spring flower display is over. This plant also adds to that spring display, with attractive hanging clusters of white bells opening all along the stems. If you don’t know this plant, you have been missing out. Now is your chance to correct that.
The Rainbow Drooping Leucothoe is an vase-shaped evergreen shrub, with many slender stems that grow upwards and then arch over, often touching the ground. It will grow to 2 or 3 feet tall and wide, and eventually can reach as much as 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide if left untrimmed. On the other hand, with annual trimming, it can be kept as low as 18 inches above the ground. The 4-inch leaves are slender ovals, with a very finely serrated edge, and a glossy surface. The new leaves emerge flushed with pinkish tones, maturing to an irregular mottling of cream, yellow and green. In late fall and through the winter the leaves turn a purplish-red, keeping some of the creaming mottling as well, and making a bright show in the winter garden.
In May long clusters of white, bell-shaped flowers grow from the upper part of the stems, a cluster at each point where a leaf is attached. The individual flowers are no more than ⅓ of an inch long, similar to the flowers of heather or Pieris. These are often followed by hanging clusters of round, reddish-brown seed pods.
Shade plantings can be dull and dark, since most shade-tolerant plants are dark green. The bright yellows and pinks of the foliage of the Rainbow Drooping Leucothoe makes it really valuable in shade, because it really pops out, a can be seen from a distance across the garden. Plant it at the end of a path to make a vista, or mass-plant it in a shady spot beneath trees, on slopes, or by water.
You can grow the Rainbow Drooping Leucothoe everywhere from zone 5 to zone 9. It grows well in warm areas, and tolerates humidity and summer heat, if the roots are moist.
While it is possible to grow Rainbow Drooping Leucothoe in full sun in cooler zones, if you have a steady supply of water, it is much better suited to partial shade, with just some morning sun, or light full shade, such as the dappled shade in wooded areas. The soil should be acidic, with a pH value below 6.0, and rich in organic material. This plant is not drought resistant, and it thrives in moist to wet soils, although it shouldn’t be grown in stagnant, swampy ground. It will not grow in brackish or salt water, but it is resistant to salt spray in coastal areas.
Rainbow Drooping Leucothoe is normally pest and disease free, and not eaten by deer. Besides making sure it doesn’t become too dry – spring mulching makes a big difference – no care is needed. You can trim after flowering as you choose, to maintain a lower height. You can also pin down branch tips to the ground – they will soon root and become independent, allowing you to increase the area being covered and develop a denser planting.
Rainbow Drooping Leucothoe is a variety of the drooping dog-hobble, Leucothoe fontanesiana, a native shrub that grows especially in the Appalachian mountains, but is also found from New York to Georgia and Alabama. The name dog-hobble is not very appealing – it is called this, or fetterbush, because the dense tangle of stems on the forest floor make it difficult for even dogs to push through. We prefer Leucothoe, pronounced as Leu-ko-thó-ē, with the final ‘e’ separated from the ‘o’. She was the daughter of a mythological king of Babylon, Orchamus, who attracted the attention of the god Apollo. Her father buried her alive for this, but Apollo brought her back as an ‘incense bush’. That couldn’t have been the plant we know today as Leucothoe, because North America hadn’t yet been discovered.
There are two possibilities for the origin of the variety called Rainbow. Two virtually identical variegated plants were originally found. One, correctly called ‘Girard’s Rainbow’, was discovered at Girard Nursery in Ohio. The other, called simply Rainbow, was found as a seedling at the nurseries of Hillier Nursery in Chandler’s Ford, England. The names are so similar it seems reasonable to assume that American plants called ‘Rainbow’ originated in Ohio, and British and European ones with Hillier Nursery.
For a big color splash in your shade garden, you can’t beat the Rainbow Drooping Leucothoe. Transform ‘drab’ into ‘dynamite’ with this great plant – but order now, our stock is limited and this shrub is always snapped up the minute it is offered.