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Mt. Airy Dwarf Fothergilla

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Picture of flower of dwarf fothergilla.

Picture of flower of dwarf fothergilla.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Mt. Airy Dwarf Fothergilla:

Plant taxonomy classifies Mt. Airy dwarf fothergilla as Fothergilla gardenii 'Mount Airy' (but see below regarding some alternate designations). 'Mount Airy' is the cultivar name.

Plant Type:

Fothergilla gardenii is a deciduous flowering shrub.

Characteristics of Mt. Airy Fothergilla:

Mt. Airy dwarf fothergilla reaches 3'-5' in height, with a similar width. In spring, these shrubs are tipped with white flowers (1"-3" long) that have the appearance of little bottle brushes, which is why "bottlebrush" is one of the common names for the fothergillas. The flowers smell a bit like licorice. The leaves are reminiscent of witch hazel, to which Fothergilla gardenii is related. The fall foliage can take on various hues (orange, yellow, green, purplish), sometimes all on one leaf!

Planting Zones for Fothergilla Gardenii:

Fothergilla gardenii shrubs are indigenous to the American Southeast and can be grown in planting zones 5-8.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Mt. Airy Dwarf Fothergilla:

Plant in full sun to partial shade. These bushes grow best in moist but well-drained ground that has a soil pH on the acidic side. Provide humus for nutrients.

Outstanding Characteristic of Mt. Airy Dwarf Fothergilla:

Despite the interesting "bottle-brush" flowers in spring, I personally am more drawn to the superb fall foliage of Mt. Airy dwarf fothergilla shrubs, which rivals that of such autumn standouts as Virginia sweetspire bush. For a picture of the fall foliage, click "More Images" under the photo (above right) to open the mini-photo gallery.

Uses in Landscaping:

Due to its outstanding fall foliage, this bush merits specimen plant status in the autumn landscape. Since, like Fothergilla gardenii, they prefer acidic soils, shrubs such as mountain laurel and azaleas and rhododendrons make good companion plants. Mt. Airy dwarf fothergillas are also candidates for woodland gardens.

Fothergilla Care:

Fothergillas do tend to spread via suckers. If you wish to limit their spread, remove the suckers as soon as you discover them.

Origin of the Name:

Fothergilla strikes people as a curious name, while gardenii is deceivingly familiar. So let's take a closer look at how the full scientific name (Fothergilla gardenii 'Mount Airy') breaks down.

Surprisingly, the two names share a similar origin -- and neither has anything to do with the characteristics of the plant. Both the genus, Fothergilla and the species, gardenii are named for people -- and both happen to have been physicians! The word gardenii has nothing to do with gardens in this case.

Meanwhile, the cultivar name Mount Airy (or Mt. Airy) derives from the name of the arboretum where the cultivar was discovered.

As noted above, there is some disagreement on how to refer to this fothergilla shrub, in terms of a scientific name. I use Fothergilla gardenii 'Mount Airy,' which may be the most common classification. But you'll also see Fothergilla major 'Mount Airy.' Since the 'Mount Airy' cultivar is a hybrid of Fothergilla gardenii and Fothergilla major, I've even seen Fothergilla gardenii x major 'Mount Airy.'

With such confusion over the correct scientific name, you'll be glad to know that most plant lovers will know what you're talking about if you use the common name "dwarf fothergilla" and/or mention the cultivar name ('Mount Airy').


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