For magnificent show in an early spring garden, the lovely and rare Alabama snow-wreath is among the best. Unlike many of the earliest blooming shrubs that have little to offer after blooming ends, this southern beauty has a good personality throughout the year: nice winter form, exfoliating, light, golden bark and beautiful flowers lasting over a month.
With the first hint of warm weather in early spring, unusual looking, snow white flowers begin to cover the leafless stems. The absent petals are replaced by tassel-like clusters of numerous, long, feathery stamens conspicuously protruding from a peculiar and interesting green calyx which persists through the summer and is quite ornamental. By the time the rich green leaves appear, the graceful form of its arching branches smothered in white, leaves no doubt to the origin of its common name.
Rare as it is lovely, Alabama snow-wreath is a southern shrub that was first found growing on a bluff above the Black Warrior River near Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1857, by Reverend Reuben Denton Nevius for whom the genus was named. Colonies were later found on the Ozark plateau of Arkansas and Missouri and on various limestone, dolomite and shale formations in Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia. It was found in Georgia in 1981 on Pigeon Mountain in Walker County by Ga Botsoccer, Steve Bowlin. Rare throughout its range, it is listed as a ‘threatened’ plant by the Georgia Natural Heritage Program.
It’s typical native habitat is on steep, bouldery slopes in drainages, and it is speculated that in the wild it reproduces predominantly by the breaking off of suckers and stems during storm washes, which carries the broken stems down-slope, where they root to form more colonies of the plants. This sort of distribution is exactly what one finds on Pigeon Mountain.
Alabama snow-wreath, a member of the Rosaceae family, bears a resemblance to some of the spiraeas to which it is kin. Its closest relative is the Japanese rose or globeplant, Kerry. The many ornamental fruit trees, serviceberry, ninebark and hawthorns, which bloom at the same time, also claim this family line. It is the tribe Kerriae which includes only three genera: Kerria, Rhodotypos and Neviusia. Alabama snow-wreath was originally thought to be the only species of Neviusia with its nearest relatives occurring today only in Asia. However, another species, Neviusia cliftonii, Shasta snow-wreath, has since been found near Lake Shasta in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in north central California [see Georgia Botanical Society Newsletter, Vol.66 No.4, May, 1993] Until the discovery of the second Neviusia, all three genera were believed to be relicts of an ancient flora dating to the period when the North American and Eurasian land masses were still in contact.
Description: Alabama snow-wreath is a rounded shrub with dense arching stems that can grow from 3-6’ tall and wide (average 5-6’), usually forming colonies in the wild. The leaves are simple, egg shaped, deciduous, alternate with sharp double toothed margins ¾ to 2” long, ½ to 1 ½” wide. The flowers which have no petals are solitary or in flat head clusters. Numerous, long, white, conspicuously protruding stamens, which are the showy part of the flower, are attached to the top of a circular green calyx which usually persists throughout the growing season.
Culture: Alabama snow-wreath is considered hardy from zone 4-8. It’s more floriferous in sun but does fine in light shade. It tolerates a good bit of shade but is denser and better shaped with at least morning sun or a lot of light. Even though it is usually found in basic soils in its native habitats, it does just fine in acid soil as long as it is loose and fairly fertile. It transplants easily from containers but its best to transplant suckers in very early spring or late fall while it is still dormant. It probably shouldn’t be considered drought tolerant, but neither does it demand much extra water. Suckering can be reduced or eliminated if the soil does not stay too wet. Prune wayward stems after flowering or just give it an uncrowded home to accommodate the arching stems.
Propagation: Terminal solfwood cuttings in early summer are about 100% successful with or without a rooting hormone. Cuttings grow fast and like most shrubs with arching stems a little cutting back when the cuttings are transplanted helps some of the stems grow more upright. Propagating suckers requires only severing them with a few roots attached and transplanting them where they can be attended until established.
Garden Use: Alabama snow-wreath is an excellent shrub border companion with forsythia, spirea, quince, aronia and kerria. It mixes well in the landscape with dogwoods, native azaleas, flowering fruit trees and redbud. Plant it behind an upright Fothergilla gardenii which blooms at the same time. Use it along lakes or ponds with other native shrubs and trees.
Grimm,Wm.C. 1966. Recognizing Native Shrubs. The Stackpole Co., Harrisburg,PA.
Jepson Herbarium Database, http://uejeps.berkely.edu/
Patrick, T.S., J.R. Allison & Ga.A. Krakow. 1995. Protected Plants of Georgia. Ga DNR, Natural Heritage Program.
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Glover, Thelma. "Neviusia alabamensis Grey." Native Shrubs. 14 Aug. 2004. http://www.gpc.edu/~ddonald/botgard/george3.htmSend comments or suggestions to: Kathryn Gable at email@example.com