Diablo Ninebark Plants

Devilishly dark shrubs

Diablo ninebark (image) has purple leaves in spring.
Diablo ninebark has purple leaves in spring. Its devilish name (via Spanish) refers to this dark foliage color. David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Diablo Ninebark:

Plant taxonomy classifies Diablo ninebark as Physocarpus opulifolius 'Monlo.' "Diablo" is a corruption of the trademark name, "Diabolo," while 'Monlo' is the cultivar.

Plant Type:

Diablo ninebark plants are broadleaf, deciduous flowering shrubs.

Characteristics of Diablo Ninebark Shrubs:

Diablo ninebark shrubs reach 8-10 feet tall with a similar spread. These multi-branched, upright shrubs are fast growers.

In spring, they bear white or pinkish-white flowers that grow in clusters. The purplish foliage of Diablo ninebark plants (with a touch of red here and there) earn them the nickname, "purple ninebarks" or purple-leafed ninebarks." An increase in red color and a hint of bronze added to the purple in the leaves make them even more attractive in fall. Mature branches exhibit exfoliating bark, making Diablo ninebark plants useful for injecting visual interest into your landscaping for winter.

Planting Zones for Diablo Ninebark Plants:

Physocarpus opulifolius is indigenous to eastern North America (other species occur in the West). Diablo ninebarks can be grown in planting zones 3-7.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Diablo Ninebark Shrubs:

One of Diablo ninebark's selling points is it flexibility. Although it will flower better in full sun, it tolerates partial shade. Likewise, while Diablo ninebark will perform better in a well-drained soil, it's relatively good at tolerating wet soil (the species is sometimes listed as a wetland plant in the wild) and clay.

It even tolerates some drought.

Outstanding Characteristic:

Diablo ninebark's signature feature is its purplish leaves, setting it apart from the species plant, which has green leaves. Some of this shrub's leaves may green up a bit during hot weather, but the color is a dark green -- still plenty dark enough to set Diablo ninebark apart from most other shrubs.

Another cultivar, Dart's Gold, bears golden foliage.

Uses for Diablo Ninebark Shrubs in Landscaping:

Many grow Diablo ninebark shrubs as specimen plants. Massed along a border, they can form a loose privacy hedge for summer. Their foliage color goes well with plants that are golden or chartreuse, such as 'Gold Mops' false cypress.

Care for Diablo Ninebark Plants -- Pruning Ninebarks:

Prune to shape (if desired) after blooming, since Diablo ninebark blooms on the prior year's wood. Or if you don't mind sacrificing flowers for one year in order to make your plants more compact, prune back to ground level in winter (rejuvenation pruning). But many prefer to let these bushes "go wild," rather than pruning meticulously. Red seed pods can succeed the flowers in fall, but only if you spare the pruning shears and spoil your shrubs.

Origin of the Name, "Ninebark":

The name, "ninebark" (sometimes misspelled, "nine bark") is derived from the plant's exfoliating bark. Several shades of brown are displayed in this exfoliation.

As an outer layer of bark peels, a new layer, with slightly different coloration, is revealed. The "nine" refers to the number of such layers, although nine seems to be an arbitrary figure (not arrived at scientifically).

Back to: Late Spring Blooming Shrubs