It gets its botanical name and its common name, Dusty Zenobia, from the fact that the leaves are dusted with a silvery film.
The "Zenobia" part is horticultural fluff; that name came from a time when botanists named plants after Greek gods or random figures of antiquity. It was a fad for a while.
When this lovely little shrub, native to the southeastern US, was first named, Linnaeus put it into the andromeda family. There were hundreds of plants classified in the andromeda family -- so many look so similar -- and the class got unwieldy.
Later, in 1834, a Scots botanist, David Don, started taking apart the huge andromeda family of plants and creating new divisions, and he separated this one into its own class. Why he named it after an ancient queen in the mideast is a mystery.
Queen Zenobia was a third century queen of Syria, who staged a revolt against Rome and conquered Egypt and, well, you can read about her here. I'd rather get back to the horticultural queen Zenobia.
Here you can see the powdery gray blue coating, which is what the "pulverulenta" part of her name means: powdery:
New leaves emerge delicately tinged in red. Everything about this plant is refined, so I can see why a queenly label seemed appropriate. Although the real queen Zenobia was a rebel and a conqueror and not at all delicate in her dealings.
She holds her leaves in winter and looks great against snow. Some years the leaves turn a rich russet and stay through the winter, other years they remain green. I have always liked the unusual leaves close up, and the tiny white blueberry-bell blossoms in spring.
But this year I saw that the little flowers turn to silver berries, and I really like that. I don't know why, but I had not noticed that before, or maybe this is the first year it set fruit.
I'm also noticing that the whole plant shines from a distance, making a nice light contrast in a border that draws the eye.
I am seeing for the first time that it develops a graceful loose form which I like. This one is under a viburnum that I have limbed up, and a groundcover persicaria with pink wands weaves around and through it.
I have two other zenobias under a birch tree. Their woodsy look goes well under trees. In fall the blue powdery cast is not as noticeable, and the plant glows with subtle copper tints.
Mine are all 'Woodlanders Blue', which has a lighter glaucus leaf color. The species is a medium green, not as dusty looking. I got mine from Woodlanders Garden, which introduced the blue-leaved cultivar. They are a mail order nursery in South Carolina that I like -- the plants from them are big and beautiful and well packaged.
(Be careful in searching for them -- it is Woodlanders dot net. Woodlanders dot com is something else entirely.)
I am discovering new reasons to like Dusty Zenobia. It is growing on me each season, and I think of her as royalty in my humble garden. Queen Z.
James Golden also admires this plant and did a great post on growing zenobia in wet clay on his blog View From Federal Twist.