June 6, 2010


Zenobia pulverulenta 
I am such a sucker.  Marketers, plantsmen, garden centers, take note: all you have to do to get me to buy your plant is write a description verging on poetry and name it something offbeat.  I enjoy good plant descriptions almost more than I like the plants themselves.

Zenobia.  Queen of Syria, conqueror of Egypt.  It was a fad in the early 1800s for botanists to give plants romantic names from antiquity that had nothing to do with the plant; naming an American native shrub after a 3rd century Persian queen is intensely odd.

Here's what I like so much better: the common name for this plant is Honeycups, for its sweet bell like flowers.  Honeycups!

Ketzel Levine called Zenobia pulverulenta "last in all shrub literature, first in my heart" back when she was still at NPR.  Her evanescent description melted me.  I was utterly hooked, and had to have this shrub in my garden.

She said the glaucous white of the leaves are "as ghostly as the ocean when the moon turns it silver and still", and I had to have it.

She told us it clutches its foliage to its quaking stems in howling winter winds, and the flowers are baubles that sparkle on its fingertips (another note to marketers: if you use the word "sparkle" I will buy your plant).

You really must follow the link and read her article.  Then tell me whether you could live without Zenobia in your garden.

Mine is a little leggy, its second season in my garden.  It does want to arch, as Ketzel described.  The leaves emerge looking dusted (pulverulenta means powdery in Latin).
I have no idea how big it will get, or whether it keeps its open habit or will fill in.  It's a relative of blueberries and I have it directly under the Oxydendrum, my Sourwood tree, that also needs very acid soil.

Mine is 'Woodlanders Blue' purportedly lighter and more glaucous than the species, and I got it from the nursery that introduced it, Woodlanders Nursery  in South Carolina.  It is never a good idea to buy plants raised in a much warmer zone than your own garden, but as you are gathering from this post, I would have tracked this plant to the equator to get it.  Later I found I could have gotten it at my favorite Connecticut nursery, Broken Arrow. (Hmmm, should a second purchase be considered?)

 Photo from easternplant.com
I'm waiting this season to see its blueberry-like bells, and see if it lives up to the name Honeycups.  It's also supposed to have striking fall color, just like blueberries.

As a new transplant my little shrub had just a few sparse blossoms last year, and fall color was not evident.  This year, though, watch out, as I expect Zenobia, warrior queen, to conquer my heart and attention with its honeycup blooms, dusty blue leaves, and autumn hues. 


  1. I have thought about getting this plant several times. I'll have to listen to Levine's description!

    Niche Gardens' catalog is a lot like that. Forget the photos -- it's the descriptions that'll get you every time.

  2. Gloria, thanks for stopping by. I'm impressed you remember your history!

    Sweet bay, great plant descriptions are such a joy to read, aren't they.

  3. Great post. Zenobia, who'da thought that was North American? I will need to pay more close attention to this one in the future.

  4. Curtis, I was surprised too, to learn it's an American native. Between the post pictures and today, it has filled out a lot, still staying dusty-leaved. I like it.


Sorry about requiring code verification -- I experimented with turning it off to make commenting easier, and I got too much spam. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and to type in silly codes. I appreciate hearing from you.