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Flowering Shrubs: Andromeda

Strong-Smelling Andromeda Shrubs are Spring Bloomers

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Notice that I refer above to andromeda shrubs as "strong-smelling"....
Picture of andromeda shrubs.

Picture of andromeda shrubs.

David Beaulieu

I shy away from saying andromeda shrubs (Pieris japonica) have "fragrant flowers," because not everyone enjoys their overpowering aroma. What most people do agree on, however, is that the white flowers on this spring-blooming shrub are a welcome sight after a long winter. Indeed, they are among the earliest-blooming spring flowers. The flowers grow in clusters; they are bell-shaped, which inspired the alternate common name of "lily-of-the-valley shrub."

In fact, Andromeda shrubs can cheer up the winter-weary even before spring arrives. Not only are they evergreens (the broadleaf type, specifically), but their flower buds tend to furnish visual interest during the winter, exhibiting a reddish hue.

These plants of China and Japan can be grown in planting zones 5-7. Andromeda shrubs can reach 6-8 feet tall and achieve a similar spread. Grow them in a moist, well-drained, acidic soil. They prefer partial shade but will tolerate more shade (although flowering may be reduced). These bushes are deer-resistant shrubs.

Cultivars have been developed that have more to offer than the original species plant. For example, two cultivars known for bearing new growth that is a fiery reddish color are:

  • 'Red Mill'
  • 'Mountain Fire'

Because of their evergreen foliage and shade-tolerance, Andromeda shrubs are popular in foundation plantings. I commonly see them used in shrub borders, as well.

And from whence does the common name, "Andromeda" shrubs derive? The ultimate origin lies in Greek mythology. Remember the maiden rescued by Perseus? Intended as a virginal sacrifice to a sea monster, she had been bound to a rock in the sea -- until Perseus swooped in to save her.

But we owe more direct thanks to Linnaeus, father of plant taxonomy, for the fanciful name. Linnaeus used it to refer to a plant he had come across growing out in a marsh in Lapland "on a little tuft" (i.e., like the rock to which Andromeda was bound) surrounded by "evil toads and frogs" (i.e., like the sea monster). [Source: The Compleat Naturalist: a Life of Linnaeus, Wilfrid Blunt, p.51.] The name was later applied to a genus of plants that included the shrub discussed here, although its genus name was later changed to Pieris.


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