HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.


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Bladdernut Flowers

Bladdernut Flowers

Bladdernut. I am convinced this plant has not made it into the landscape trade and into more backyards because of its name. Who wants to ask the garden center professional for Bladdernut? Who wants to answer when their friend asks “what is that interesting flowering shrub?”, “Oh that? It’s Bladdernut”. Other plants with less than pretty common names have made it into plant catalogs by sporting tags with their {{gasp}} scientific names or a new less offensive common name. Think of Tradescantia. Many catalogs market the Spiderwort as Tradescantia or have even created an entirely new common name with more marketing power: Spider Lily.  Similar stories abound. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) has become the gardener-friendly sounding Butterfly Flower or Butterfly Milkweed. One of my favorite spring blooms, the Liverwort, is more commonly available as its scientific name Hepatica. (Wort, you may be interested to know, is the old English term for plant. Often plants were names for the problems they would solve – Liverwort = Liver problems, Spiderwort = curing spider bite.) I think it’s time for a name make-over for the Bladdernut. What can we call it to get it into more backyards?

So why is this native shrub with the pretty flowers called Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) anyway?

So now you know! The 3-part inflated fruit starts out green in the summer and turns brown through the season.

Pollinator Friendly

I was observing this in a Southeastern PA forest and in the short time I stopped to watch, numerous insects visited the flowers, from bees to a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and tiny insects beyond me to identify.

Pollinator Friendly Bladdernut

Pollinator Friendly Bladdernut

Landscape Use

Where can you find (or plant) Bladdernut? Moist well-drained soils, rocky woods, shade to heavy shade. In the wild this shrub takes on an airy, open form to 15′ tall. You may also identify it by the gray bark with subtle stripes and the leaves occurring in 3s. If you are on a woodland adventure anywhere from Quebec to Florida, you have a chance of finding this shrub along your way. What I like about this shrub, besides being pest and disease resistant, is that it provides another option for the middle layer of your landscape. Ideally our landscapes should have layers, each layer supporting a different variety of wildlife including mammals, birds and insects. Often the middle and ground cover layers are missing due to herbivory by deer and other mammals, but mostly deer – let’s be honest. Or there is no layer because it wasn’t planned for in the design.  If you are looking for a shade tolerant flowering shrub that will grow in nearly any type of soil and attract pollinators, consider planting Bladdernut. If you are looking to create a natural landscape, consider pairing this shrub with American Beech, Tulip Tree and Spicebush, as they all grow in association in the wild.  Bladdernut will form a colony if left unchecked, so perhaps this is not for your formal landscape. Though this shrub boarders on having just one season of interest without any fall leaf color to speak of, the papery capsule persisting through winter adds enough interest to warrant a place in the landscape.


Why Isn’t it Here?

As I was exploring this forest, so similar to my own in geology, climate and hydrology I began to wonder why it occurs naturally in these forests, but not in my own woods? Rumor is the shrub isn’t preferred by deer. I have yet to unravel this mystery, but I know it belongs in my yard. I have read that it requires quite a bit of pre-treatment to grow from seed, but readily roots from cuttings. I think I will get my propagation equipment out and see what I can grow. In the meantime, perhaps I can find it for sale in a catalog…

So what do you think? What new name can we give this plant to get it into more catalogs and, as a result, into more backyards? Should we go with Staphylea? Is that more appealing? What are your ideas?



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