Some people call is a chaste tree; others know it as vitex.
Whatever you call it, this gorgeous tree is blooming all across the state at this time of year.
Vitex produces small lavender-blue flowers, which are clustered in 5- to 7-inch spikes, from late May through June in Louisiana, with a second flush of flowers in July or early August.
But that isn’t the only color they come in. Other cultivars offering white flowers include Alba and Silver Spire and pink flowers such as Rosea. One of the most favored cultivars is Shoal Creek, a Louisiana Super Plant selection. And Purpurea has lighter purple flowers.
These large, deciduous flowering shrubs are often considered a small tree for landscapes.
They should be planted in full sun for the best blooms, but they also do well in partial shade. The trees grow to 10- to 15-feet tall by 15- to 20-feet wide. Its growth rate is vigorous in loose, well-drained soil that is a bit on the dry side. In fact, it’s very drought-tolerant once established. In wet soils, the vitex tree can suffer from dieback and root rot and occasionally get leaf spot. But it has no major pest concerns.
Allowed to grow naturally, vitex will generally form a large, bushy plant about 10 feet tall. If you want it in a more compact form, you can cut the plant back to about 2 to 3 feet from the ground in late winter.
In addition to their beautiful flowers, vitex have attractive, star-shaped, aromatic leaves. When you brush against or crush the leaves, the scent is a crisp and clean, similar to a sage.
The leaves are green-gray on top and gray underneath and grow in a palmate pattern with five to seven lance-shaped leaflets emanating from a single point.
Vitex makes an excellent focal planting for the landscape. And when they bloom, the pollinators will come. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds can all be seen feeding on the tree's sweet nectar. Additionally, the seeds attract several small bird species. This is an excellent selection for those keeping bees for honey.
The trees are deciduous and may lose their leaves in extended cold snaps. However, they will not remain bare for long thanks to a fast growth rate. Harder freezes may result in some dieback and damage, but they will be back.
Vitex is a nonnative species. Some people consider it invasive because the seeds may colonize nearby landscape beds and become weedy. However, if the old flower spikes are removed to prevent seeds from forming, you can help control the spread of the plant. You also can reproduce the plant by cuttings very easily.
Shoal Creek, the super plant selection, is an outstanding selection with superior characteristics compared to the standard. The 12-inch flower spikes are noticeably larger and have a deeper, more vibrant lavender-blue color. It has exceptionally vigorous growth, filling your landscape quickly with beautiful, aromatic leaves and gorgeous flower spikes.
If you prize plants that don’t require a lot of care but pack a beautiful punch, you can’t do better than vitex trees. Local nurseries and garden centers do a great job of carrying Louisiana Super Plants, so look for Shoal Creek vitex there.
You can more about the Louisiana Super Plants program and find participating nurseries near you at lsuagcenter.com/superplants.