Latin for Gardeners: August 2018

August’s Native Maryland Plant
Ceanothus americanus L.  (see-uh-NOE-thus uh-mair-ih-KAY-nus)
Common Name: New Jersey Tea


Ceanothus americanus has taken its time to grow on me.  I was originally attracted to this plant due to claims of its severe drought-tolerance and ability to thrive in poor soil.  I had just the right place to test these claims!  I planted a 6” tubeling in an area where other plants have struggled and eventually died.  I knew this plant was a favorite of deer and bunnies and, sure enough, in its first year the tubeling was reduced to 2” by bunnies that visit my yard. Not to be deterred and knowing most of the growth in the early stages was happening below ground, I kept the plant in this difficult site. I am thrilled that I stuck with it - after three years I have a fully grown, low-mounding, low-maintenance shrub that has lovely white blooms starting in May. Another benefit? Pollinators love this plant!

Ceanothus americanus is a nitrogen fixing plant in the Buckthorn (Rhamnaceae) family, one of the few non-legumes that can fix nitrogen; this ability allows the plant to improve the soil and survive where other plants wouldn’t stand a chance. My experience has been that this is one tough plant. It prefers full sun and doesn’t want to be moved once established so consider this when siting it. Although I’m delighted the plant has lived up to its drought-tolerant claims I won’t be testing out another claim that many Midwesterners have stated, “the roots of the plant can break a plow”. 

Fun Fact: Ceanothus americanus leaves, like Monarda didyma leaves, were used as a substitute for “real tea” during the American Revolution.  Unfortunately for the drinkers, these leaves contain no caffeine. 


~ Alison Milligan – MG/MN 2013
Watershed Steward Class 7