Branching out

Pitcher plant (Tony Bertauski)

It's hard to get away from the same old boring plants that everyone uses. So try these unique and hardy plants this year.

Japanese plum yew Latin name: Cephalotaxus harringtonia

The plum yew is a relatively inconspicuous shrub. It's very similar to the yew shrub (Taxus species) more commonly found in Northern regions producing the inedible juicy red berries.

The Japanese plum yew is valued for its evergreen foliage and unique form. The prostrate cultivar (C. harringtonia ‘Prostrata') is a spreading variety that gets 2 or 3 feet tall. The upright cultivar (C. harringtonia ‘Fastigiata') can get 5 feet wide and 10 feet tall or more. However, it is very slow growing and needs very little attention.

It is a great choice for shady conditions. It does not flower but the deer- resistant foliage will provide a nice textural element.

Alphonse Karr clumping bamboo

Latin name: Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr'

The word bamboo can strike fear in a gardener's heart. Spreading bamboos can invade an area and never go away. However, clumping bamboos are noninvasive and easy to maintain.

Clumping bamboo is an excellent choice for developing a quick screen that can grow 20 feet or more. New canes grow next to last year's growth. The Alphonse Karr is especially nice because the canes are striped yellow and green. Once the clump is established, the foliage can be pruned up to expose the variegation. The canes can be removed at the base and have a variety of decorative uses in the garden, such as staking tomatoes or building frames.

For best results, plant clumping bamboo in full sun. It will tolerate drought and, to some extent, wet soil but prefers well-drained soil.

Southern hosta Latin name: Hosta plantaginea

Hostas are highly prized for a wide range of foliar colors and sizes. However, the selection is more limited in the South because they require a cold winter; about 30 days below 43 degrees. Southern hostas have lower winter requirements than most hostas.

Hostas are excellent shade perennials. They do have some issues with slugs eating holes in the leaves. While the foliage is highly valued, the summer flowers are a bonus and the fragrant hosta has a sweet smell.

Check local nurseries for their stock. Plant Delights nursery has a convenient list of Southern hostas at

Giant leopard plant Latin name:Farfugium ‘Giganteum'

This big-leafed perennial won Charleston Horticulture Society's Gold Medal award last year and I was excited to get it in my garden. The leaves are large, rounded and glossy and can be as wide as 15 inches. The texture and form are exceptional. I noticed it growing beneath a live oak at the Medical University of South Carolina Horseshoe while driving by.

Some sources claim it does better in sun, but I've noticed it doing quite well in shade. It produces large stalks of yellow flowers in fall. Don't confuse this with the spotted leopard plant (F. japonicum ‘Aureomaculata'). The leaves are variegated with yellow spots that look more diseased than ornamental and don't perform as well as giant leopard plant.

Pitcher plant Latin name: Sarracenia species

Pitcher plants can be used in a bog garden or container for unique and colorful foliage. Insects are lured into the vase-shaped, hollow leaves and digested by the plant. The nodding flowers are just as unique as the foliage, blooming in midspring.

Plant pitcher plants in one part sand with one part peat moss. Line the ground or pot with plastic and keep the soil damp but not saturated. Pitcher plants do best in full sun. The foliage dies back in winter and can be pruned away for new growth in spring.

Soft caress mahonia Latin name: Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress'

This quickly became one of my favorite shade plants. It is a very slow-growing shrub that only gets about 3 feet tall and wide. The yellow flowers bloom in early winter but they haven't been prolific for me. However, I think its primary value is its fern-like foliage and upright form. It will work well as an accent in any garden.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him