Eye On Life Magazine

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Eye on Life Magazine is a Lifestyle and Literary Magazine.  Enjoy articles on gardening, kitchen cooking, poetry, vintage decor, and more.

Flowering Woody Bushes and Shrubs

Different Types of Bushes and Shrubs

They are all around us, so much so that we don’t always notice or appreciate the contributions of shrubs and bushes both the environment and to the beauty nature has to offer.  All shrubs (bushes) are woody plants and are different from trees, because of their multiple stems and the fact that they are mostly significantly shorter. As a rule, shrubs are less than fifteen feet tall. Some shrub varieties can also include sub-varieties of the same plant that are classified as trees. Examples of this would be:

  •          Lavender
  •          Periwinkle
  •          Thyme

Today, most people are more familiar with the nursery cultivated shrubs in parks or their gardens and simply unaware that many shrubs exist everywhere around them, quietly growing along roadsides, in the mountains, rural spots, and even abandon or vacant properties.

It is important to remember that when you plant shrubs on your property, that they are best shown off and grown by methods of selective pruning or renewal pruning, depending upon the type of shrub.


Rhododendron - Source: Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, London via Wikimedia Commons

Rhododendron - Source: Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, London via Wikimedia Commons

Although the Himalayas appear to be the original home of most species of Rhododendrons, America possesses several of these lovely flowering shrubs, who all appear in a wide variety of colors.

The most beautiful ones live chiefly on mountains, occasionally creeping down into cool shadowy glens of the lowlands. They arrive at the greatest size, that of small trees, in the southeastern mountains, where they are called “laurel” or rose-bay.

They usually bear great clusters of pink or white spotted flowers (but also come in many other flowering colors), jutting out form many foliage of dark, shining evergreen leaves. The leaves are spirally located, with some species having an underside of minute hairs (scales)

The name Rhododendron is derived from the Greek word for rose and the Greek word for tree. There are over one thousand species within this plant family of the Ericaceae. It is related to the azalea.

Most Rhododendrons are shrubs, but occasionally some species are quite large trees over thirty feet tall. Some tropical species are epiphytes. Some Rhododendrons are evergreens and some are deciduous.


Smilax - Source: Kohler images via Wikimedia Commons

Smilax - Source: Kohler images via Wikimedia Commons

Another evergreen shrub of the South is the Climbing Smilax, closely resembling its relatives of the Catbriers of the North. It’s known by many common names, among them:

  •          Greenbriar
  •          Catbriar
  •          Briar

They are so similar that it’s often hard to tell them apart. Each have sharp thorns and can quickly take over an area with their prolific vine. It can be considered an invasive species in areas where it is not wanted.  Some varieties are more vine like than bush or shrub like.  One variety was used as a key ingredient for sassafras (root beer).

The twining stems, set with stiff leaves were frequently sent North for Christmas decorations, along with the prickly foliage and scarlet berries of holly.

Black Alder And It’s Plant Relatives

Winter Berries; source: Nick Sarebi via Wikimedia Commons

Winter Berries; source: Nick Sarebi via Wikimedia Commons

The Black Alder of swamps, which loses its foliage, but is strikingly adorned with close-crowded vermilion berries — belongs to the Holly plant family, like the gay Winterberry, the Ink-berry, and the inconspicuous Cassine, or Yaupon.  I can think of nothing lovelier than the Winterberry pictured below in the dead of winter white snow.

The leaves of the last named are dried and used as a tea in some places. They were formerly used by Native Americans for brewing the sickening “black-drink” with which they ceremonially dosed and purified themselves with.

The leaves of the New Jersey Tea, a widely branching little shrub, every little twig tipped with bunches of tiny white flowers, were said to have served in an infusion, for a beverage. However, the use of Labrador Tea, woolly, and astringent, appears to be more frequent in the sub-arctic regions.


Mahonia dictoyta - Source: Stan Shebs via Wikimedia Commons

Mahonia dictoyta - Source: Stan Shebs via Wikimedia Commons

The West has a shrub, the Mahonia, “which looks like a holly, fruits like a grape, and is a barberry.”

It is frequently seen in modern shrubberies, but although evergreen in its own home, will lose its foliage in the North, if not protected, thus unduly exposing its blue fruit. The fruit has a sharp but pleasant taste.

There’s a little bit of controversy among botanists as to whether this genus (with seventy different species) is properly classified among evergreen shrubs. Many believe it should belong to the genus Berberis.

The Mahonia name comes from a Philadelphia horticulturist who brought it’s attention from plant species collected by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.


Manzanita Blossoms - Source: Photo by: Werewombat via Wikimedia Commons

Manzanita Blossoms - Source: Photo by: Werewombat via Wikimedia Commons

In the warmer parts of California are found also the Manzanitas, very conspicuous among other shrubs of the chaparral on account of their smooth red branches, pale foliage, and large dark red berries. Of the plant family genus Arctostaphylos, they can widely differ in size.

They have a very attractive bark that is popular with crafters and for home decorations as well as for furniture. Their flowers are equally popular with hummingbirds. The flowers are urn shaped. Some variations in color of the flowers can range from a vivid pink to white.

They are extremely hardy in drought areas, evergreen, even in desert like conditions. However, they do not tolerate wet conditions well. Often in areas where they thrive they are known to live beyond one hundred years.

One of the things that is interesting about the Manzanita flowers is that they have the ability to manipulate their nectar in attracting just the right butterflies, hummingbirds, and desirable insects.

Their fruit resembles “little apples” and the word “Manzanita” actually means little apples.  Once you’ve seen manzanita it’s one of those plants you will never forget in uniqueness. 


Witch Hazel - Source:  Photo (c)2007 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) vai Wikimedia Commons

Witch Hazel - Source: Photo (c)2007 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) vai Wikimedia Commons

Witch hazel also is known as hamamelis, snapping hazel, winter bloom, spotted alder, tobacco wood, and hamamelis water.  Both bark and leaves contain a great deal of tannin. An extract of the bark is much used to bathe tender skins and sore muscles.

Not so long ago, many people believed that a forked twig of this shrub properly held in the hands, was able to point out where a supply of water could be found near the surface of the ground.   Additionally, witchhazel is medically used as a topical astringent in many different ways.  It’s inexpensive and easily obtained and can be found on most grocery store shelves in addition to pharmacies.  Some of its uses are:

  • Acne and blemish control
  • Diaper rash
  • Itching and swelling due to poison ivy and other irritants
  • Various other topical uses