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The Monday Garden
Forsythia: Gold From China

Issue No. 107 - April 11, 2004
by Sue Sweeney

That old New England standard, forsythia brightens up a rainy spring day.

picture: Opening forsythia with, of course, yew, Hope Street, Stamford CT

Forsythia is so much a part of the Northern suburban landscape that itís hard to believe itís not native. The story goes it was ďdiscoveredĒ in China in the 1840ís by a plant hunter sneaking around in disguise. He smuggled it back to England where they named it in honor of the great Scottish horticulturist, William Forsyth. Around 1860, it was imported into the USA and spread from there.
The other thing thatís hard to believe is that itís a member of the olive family. Yes, itís an olive. Surprisingly, though, so are privets (the hedge), lilacs, jasmine, and ash trees. Whoíd have guessed?

And the third surprising thing is that the deer donít like it much. Now, thatís surprising. If you go to the, http:// Connecticut Gardenerís web site , thereís a study on what local deer do and donít eat, and forsythia is rated as ďunlikely to be damagedĒ by critters that think nothing of munching up the yew, euonymus, arborvitae, rhodies, holly, yucca, red cedar, and juniper. Go figure. Forsythia doesnít show up on the major poison control sites (some actual go out on a limb and say that itís not poisonous); it is used heavily in Chinese traditional medicine. Many animals shelter in forsythia thickets, and some of our small neighbors do eat the spring buds. Otherwise, the plant seems to be ignored by all and sundry. Even the Japanese beetles leave it pretty much alone.

Which leads to the next surprise: despite the lack of predators, itís also not particularly invasive. My guess is that this is so because forsythiaís seeds are not bird favorites, forsythiaís some what shallow rooted and therefore is not all that tolerant of drought or bad winters.

Further south, at Kal and Rogerís in Maryland, the forsythiaís in full bloom:

Photo courtesy of Sarina Tsukerman


Photo courtesy of Sarina Tsukerman

Ah, so pretty. We need to thank Kal and her niece for the fine photos.

Culturally, thereís not that much to know about forsythia since itís virtually care-free. You can force the branches in late wither and then root the cuttings. Branches will root if they touch the ground. It doesnít really care much about soil conditions but wants full sun or just a touch of shade. Water during droughts, and mulch the feet in the winter. It grows cane directly from the root crown. Every few years, it doesnít hurt to take out some of the bigger, older wood so that thereís plenty of room for fresh growth. (Despite what some do to the poor bush, hedge-clipping is not necessary).


Picture: Springdale, Stamford, CT


picture: Dentistsí office, corner Bedford and third Street, Stamford, CT

From The Monday Garden. Copyright © by Sue Sweeney. Reproduced with permission. 

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