Coast Leucothoe Plant Profile

Coast Leucothoe Plant Profile

Close up of glossy green leaves tinged with red.
The leaves of Leucothoe axillaris "Curly Red" are slightly twisted and are tinged with shifting shades of orange, red, scarlet and purple from spring through fall.

 Wulf Forrester-Barker / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The dark green, thick glossy leaves of this evergreen plant offer guaranteed verdant beauty all year long, and its manageable size makes it a strong foundation plant in the border. The leaves have a leathery texture, and their deep green takes on tones of purple and bronze in the autumn. The creamy white bell like flowers add texture and interest to this handsome shrub perfect for shady gardens. The flowers are also slightly fragrant, with a light honey-like scent that attracts pollinators like butterflies and bees, and maybe even hummingbirds, adding to this plant's desirability and appeal for the garden landscape. Overall, this evergreen has a pleasing array of seasonal outfits, from the young bright green leaves in early spring, to the white flowers tinged with pink in late spring through early summer, to its autumn shift to deeper bronze and purple.

The "Curly Red" cultivar has even more dramatic color range, emerging in spring with orange-red new growth, and taking on shades of scarlet red in summer and purple in autumn. Small red berries appear soon after the flowers, attracting songbirds. Part of the family of Ericaceae, the genus Leucothoe is named for the Greek goddess who was one of many lovers of Apollo, young and vibrant god of the sun. Apollo had a habit of transforming his lovers into various plants, and being changed into an evergreen was usually a good sign that he wished to honor you and give you longevity and eternal youth.

Deep green glossy leaves with clusters of bell shaped creamy white flowers.
Warren Reed / Flickr / CC By 2.0
Botanical Name Leucothoe axillaris
Common Name Coast Leucothoe, Coastal Doghobble, Fetterbush
Plant Type Evergreen shrub
Mature Size 4 feet tall by 6 feet wide
Sun Exposure Partial sun
Soil Type Average, well drained, slightly acidic, organic
Soil pH 4.5 to 7.0
Bloom Time May
Flower Color White, blushed pink
Hardiness Zones 6 to 9
Native Areas Southeastern US

How to Grow Coast Leucothoe

If placed in a location protected from wind and given a layer of winter mulch, this plant can be hardy to Zone 5, but it tends to perform better at Zone 6 or above. It has a sturdy root system and can perform well on a slope or in a rock garden as long as the soil is not too loose or gravelly. Because of its compact but dense growth habit, as well as its mid season bloom time, it can be an effective underplanting for larger, much earlier or later blooming shrubs that also flourish in partial shade, like azaleas, rhododendrons, oakleaf hydrangeas, weigelas, and/or rose of Sharon. Other than not liking too much sun, extreme heat or harsh wind, it's quite hardy and resilient.

Light

While this shrub can grow in full sun, it prefers partial shade. Full sun and hot temperatures can dry out the leaves and flowers, so if you do plant this in a partial sun location, morning sun is preferable to afternoon sun.

Soil

Coast Leucothoe does best in a humus-rich, loamy, organic lime-free soil that is slightly acidic, but can tolerate soils from neutral to fairly acid. Good drainage is essential. Adding material that will help improve moisture retention and drainage will help this shrub perform best: this includes peat moss, coffee grounds, composted manure, and a bit of sand.

Water

This shrub needs regular watering to perform best, and extra water during a drought season, as it is not drought-tolerant. During its bloom season, water deeply at the base so that flowers get enough moisture.

Temperature and Humidity

Leucothoe doesn't like extremes in temperature, hot or cold. Giving it some protection from extreme cold or winter winds (by planting near a structure, for example, or within an array of larger shrubs two or three feet apart) helps it survive a harsh winter. It can wilt or dry out in hot afternoon sun. It does like ample water and may even enjoy some misting from your sprinkler or hose on a hot balmy day to keep its leaves moist and happy.

Propagation

This shrub can be propagated from cuttings taken in early summer (June). Dip the stem in rooting hormone and plant in a loose potting medium. Keep in a fairly warm location but out of direct sun. Keep soil moist and mist leaves regularly. The cutting should form roots in 10 to 12 weeks.