Twisted and spiky or soft and sweet: more unusual spring planting ideas

"Tell me more!"
That's the reaction I've been getting in e-mail messages from readers of recent columns about plant suggestions that are... well, off the beaten path. So here are a few more "less-than-common" plants that you might want to explore, if you're looking to add unique features to your landscape.
<a href=" ">Corkscrew Willow (Salix matsudana Tortuosa)</a><br> A fascinating tree with an unusual and descriptive name. I have long admired this tree but I'm surprised that not a lot of people know about it, so I'm pleased to spread the word. The twisted, contorted branches are nonetheless elegant, as with all willows, and it is a tree that has a distinctive look for each season.
As spring turns to summer, I enjoy the sight of the bright green, narrow-leaved foliage. In the fall, the foliage slowly turns yellow, and throughout the winter I frequently take time to look at the contorted, claw-like limbs and twigs. In fact, another name for the Corkscrew Willow is Dragon's Claw and I can certainly understand why.
It's a strong, hardy tree that's quite easy to grow and tolerates almost any soil, including wet soil with poor drainage. For a really dramatic effect, you can clump two or three together and watch the claw-like limbs intertwine. Trim back to a single stem if you want to line a driveway or a property boundary. Corkscrew Willows are modest in height - between 20 and 30 ft at maturity with a spread of around 15 ft.
<a href=" ">Giant Pussy Willow (Salix chaenomeloides)</a><br> Unlike the Corkscrew, this one is, of course, a shrub. The "giant" version is quite spectacular (if you're only familiar with its smaller cousins) growing to about 10 ft high. It produces silver-gray foliage in the summer and glowing red bark in the winter that sprouts red buds in the early spring that turn into rabbit's foot-size furry catkins.
All of which gives me an excuse to pass along the folk-tale origin of the pussy willow...
According to a Polish legend, a mother cat was crying by a river in which her little kittens were drowning. Moved by the cat's plight, the willows that lined the river bank bent over and trailed their long branches in the water. The kittens clung to the branches and were lifted to safety. And now, each spring, the branches of the Pussy Willow sprout fur-like buds where the kittens had clung and been rescued. Aaaaaaah..!
If you missed any of the previous columns with unusual planting suggestions, you can find them all at my Web site. Go to and click on
"The Plant Man" where you can scroll through the archives. Alternatively, send me an e-mail at with a few details about your landscape and the results you want to achieve and I'll give you some of my personal recommendations.
Back to my "off the wall" plant ideas...
<a href=" ">Flying Dragon (Poncirus trifoliata)</a><br> Thinking of the Dragon's Claw reminded me of this highly unusual plant, Flying Dragon. This is another plant developed by the ingenious Don Shadow. In fact I'm looking at one right now. Cheryl and I like this so much that we potted one for the office! If you want to see a photo of it, drop me an e-mail and I'll send you a picture.
Flying Dragon has dense, spiky limbs that can be very useful if you're looking to plant a hedge that will deter people or animals from cutting through and crossing your lawn! In fact, I've seen it used for just that purpose on college campuses and public places such as zoos and parks.
In spring, Flying Dragon produces small white blooms that are very attractive. It also produces a yellow fruit that is technically edible but,frankly, far too sour for my taste! However, I'm happy to enjoy the beautiful sight, both of the potted version and the hedge which will grow to about 6 ft. It has extreme cold hardiness - to about 0 degrees Fahrenheit - and has good blight resistance.
So... twisted, soft or spiky. The choice is yours. Don't settle for ho-hum when you can let your landscape make a unique statement. The Plant Man is here to help. Send questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to <a
resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free weekly e-mailed newsletter, go to <a href=" "></a>
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