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SOUTHERN GARDENING: Distyliums add welcome color to winter gardens

New foliage on Cinnamon Girl Distylium emerges in shades of coppery-red, giving the plant a warm, cinnamon-colored appearance. (Photo by MSU Extension/Eddie Smith)

By Eddie Smith

MSU Extension Service

In the world of ornamental shrubs, Distyliums are a hidden gem, prized for their evergreen foliage, adaptability, and understated charm.

Originating in East Asia, particularly China and Japan, these resilient plants have found their way into gardens around the globe, bringing a touch of elegance to landscapes.

At the heart of Distyliums’ appeal lies their glossy, leathery leaves. The rich, dark green hue of these evergreen wonders remains vibrant throughout the year, providing a welcome burst of color in the winter when many other plants are dormant.

I am captivated by the way the foliage catches and reflects sunlight, adding sophistication to the garden.

Distyliums such as this Linebacker selection are prized for their excellent disease resistance, heat tolerance and low maintenance requirements. (Photo by MSU Extension/Eddie Smith)

One of the standout features of Distyliums is their ability to thrive in a wide range of soil types. Whether your garden soil is clay-heavy or leans towards alkaline, these hardy shrubs are up for the challenge.

This adaptability makes Distyliums an excellent choice for gardeners facing diverse growing conditions, allowing for easy integration into a variety of landscaping designs.

While not grown for their flowers, Distyliums do produce small, inconspicuous blooms, which are delicate additions to the overall aesthetic. These flowers give way to small, black berries in the fall. I appreciate the subtle contrast that the unassuming flowers and black berries provide to the bold backdrop of glossy greenery.

Distyliums are prized for their versatility in landscaping.

Their dense, mounding growth habit makes them ideal for everything from low hedges to foundation plantings. These shrubs also can shine as standalone specimens, adding structure and visual appeal to garden beds.

While not grown for their flowers, Distyliums such as this Swing Low variety produce small, inconspicuous blooms that give way to small, black berries in the fall. (Photo by MSU Extension/Eddie Smith)

Cultivars – such as Swing Low, Cinnamon Girl, and Linebacker – let gardeners choose the variety that best suits their design preferences.

Swing Low Distylium has a neat, dense plant habit and glossy, dark green foliage. It typically grows 2-3 feet tall and spreads 3-4 feet, making it an excellent choice for small gardens or for use as a low hedge.

Cinnamon Girl Distylium has unique and attractive foliage. The glossy, deep green leaves have a slightly rippled texture and are accented by new growth that emerges in shades of coppery-red. This gives the plant a warm, cinnamon-colored appearance. It typically grows 3-4 feet tall and spreads to 4-5 feet, making it an excellent choice for borders, mass plantings, or as a low hedge.

Linebacker Distylium has dark green foliage and a compact plant habit, reaching 5-6 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide. It is great for hedges, screens or as a specimen plant.

Each of these Distyliums are prized for their excellent disease resistance, heat tolerance, and low maintenance requirements. Gardeners in the U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 to 9 can rejoice in the fact that Distyliums are well-suited to their climates.

I have noticed that Distyliums have emerged as a go-to option for gardeners seeking evergreen elegance and versatility in outdoor spaces. With their glossy foliage, adaptability to various growing conditions, and range of landscaping uses, Distyliums have earned a place as a staple in gardens worldwide.

As more cultivars capture the attention of plant enthusiasts, the allure of Distyliums is sure to grow. They add timeless beauty to gardens for years to come.

Dr. Eddie Smith is a gardening specialist and Pearl River County coordinator with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. He is also host of the popular Southern Gardening television program. Locate Southern Gardening products online at