Monday, June 11, 2012

The Nine of Barks

Species name: Physocarpus opulifolius

Common name: common ninebark

Location: Ontario

There are about ten species of ninebark shrubs, nine of which have their origins in various parts of North America. I figured that with my luck, the kind we had in our back yard would be the only one native to Asia. I'm pleasantly surprised! We have the good old common ninebark, native to eastern North America.

The common name of this plant comes from (literally) the shape of the bark when it peels. The bark peels off in strips as the plant matures, usually from the top down and curling as it goes. When a strip curls enough to make a loop, it looks roughly like the number nine. I guess I probably should have said "some imagination required"! This is a great ornamental species for gardens, especially along slopes. It is drought-tolerant, flood-tolerant, salt-tolerant, disease resistant (except for the foliage, which is actually incredibly sensitive to fungal growth when constantly moist; water this plant at the base, not with an aerial sprinkler), shade-tolerant, sun-tolerant, and able to live in just about any kind of soil conditions. Not bad for a native species! Ninebark shrubs are relatively slow growing, and usually won't flower if pruned regularly (which would be a bad thing if you like flowers; the flowers of this group are not very spectacular and they're grown more for their attractive foliage colours).

Aside from their obvious use as an ornamental plant, this species has no other uses of significance. Since they are a native species, some governments at various levels (most often State governments in the US) have started planting these shrubs along highways that are beside very steep inclines as erosion control.