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Ornamentals with Interesting Fruit
This article was published originally on 6/19/1998
Most annuals and perennials are selected for their attractive flowers. Though often overlooked by home gardeners, some herbaceous and woody ornamentals produce interesting fruit. These fruits may provide color to the garden or food for wildlife. Some can be dried and used in arrangements. Below is a list of some perennials, annuals, and vines that produce unique or interesting fruit.
Porcelain Vine (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) is a vigorous, deciduous, twining vine that can climb 15 feet or more. The leaves are lobed, grape-like, and green or green and white variegated. In summer, inconspicuous greenish flowers appear on the vine. Then, in the fall, the grape-like berries mature from a pale green to turquoise, bright blue, and violet. This plant prefers moist, well-drained soils in sun or part shade. Because of its rampant growth, porcelain vine needs strong support.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) has an interesting flower as well as fruit. One or two, three-lobed leaves are produced by each plant. The leaves are borne on 12-inch-long petioles. Flowers appear in early to mid-spring. The inner part of the flower consists of a cylindrical, club-like spadix. The spadix is commonly referred to as Jack. The spathe is the outer part of the flower. The leaf-like spathe wraps around the lower part of the spadix. The upper portion of the spathe gracefully curves over the spadix forming a canopied "pulpit". The spathe may be green, purplish-brown, or striped. Jack-in-the-pulpit produces berries which mature to a scarlet-red five to six months after flowering. These berries are often eaten by wildlife. The plant is 1 to 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide. The best place for jack-in-the-pulpit is a moist, partially shaded, woodland garden site. It performs poorly in dry soils.
To provide winter interest, plant False Indigo (Baptisia australis). The pea-like, three-leaflet leaves are blue-green in color. Indigo blue flowers extend above the foliage in mid to late spring. Following bloom, the plant produces a 2-to 3-inch long, pod-like fruit which turns black at maturity. The fruit hangs on the branches through winter. The hard seeds can be heard rattling inside the shell of the fruit through the fall and winter months. False indigo grows to a height of 3 to 4 feet and a width of 3 feet. Because the plant grows slowly, it will not need to be divided for several years. This plant prefers a site with full sun to partial shade in well-drained soil. If grown in partial shade, false indigo may require staking to keep the growth upright. The pods can provide outdoor winter interest or be used in dried flower arrangements.
Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) is another vine with interesting fruit. The dark green leaves are egg-shaped and serrate with a pointed tip. This vigorous, deciduous vine can grow to 20 feet or greater. The tiny, inconspicuous, yellow-white flowers appear in May to June. The fruit opens in October to reveal the yellow-orange inner wall and crimson seed. Both a male and a female plant are needed to produce fruit. Place the vine in full sun for best fruiting. Bittersweet withstands a wide range of soils and pHs. To control its aggressive growth, plant bittersweet in poor soils. The fruit is used in the fall in dried arrangements.
Clematis vines (Clematis species and hybrids) bloom late spring into fall. Home gardeners can choose from numerous species and varieties which vary widely in flower form, size, and color. Some cultivars bloom on old wood while some bloom on the current season's growth. The fruit is rounded and covered with silky hairs. The leaves are usually large and slightly pubescent underneath. This vine is a rapid grower. Five to ten feet of growth can be achieved in one season. Clematis prefer a site where the top of the plant is warm while the bottom stays cool. Light, loamy, moderately moist soil provides the optimum growing environment. To keep the roots cool, apply mulch around the base of the vine. Avoid extremely hot and sunny areas.
For an unusual specimen, try the European Gladwin Iris (Iris foetidissima). This native of western Europe is not widely planted in Iowa, but it is becoming more popular because of its interesting fruit. This plant is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Mulch it heavily in the fall to protect it from Iowa winters. Lilac and green or yellow/green flowers appear in the spring. The primary attraction to this perennial is the large seedpods. The rich, orange seeds appear as the pods split open in the fall. This plant will grow to 1 1/2 feet in height and 2 feet in width. It prefers partial shade and fairly dry soil. The seeds and seed pods work well in dried arrangements.
Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena) has very fine-textured foliage. The flowers appear at the ends of stems in summer. Each flower is 1 1/2 inches across and closely surrounded by a row of finely textured leaves. Flower colors include blue, pink, and white. The erect growth is 18 to 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide. Love-in-a-mist can be massed in the garden. The blooms provide long lasting cut flowers that can also be dried. The seed capsule is 1 inch in diameter, shaped like an egg, and covered with bristles and branched spines. Love-in-a-mist prefers full sun and ordinary garden soil.
For large, beautiful, canary yellow flowers, try Ozark Sundrop (Oenothera missouriensis). The 3-to 4-inch flowers appear in summer. Following the bloom, green, torpedo-like fruit appear. The foliage is dark green with a white midrib. Ozark sundrop has a trailing habit which makes it perfect for the raised bed or edging perennial borders. Its heat tolerance makes it an excellent candidate for the rock garden. Plant this perennial in full sun and well-drained soil.
Year of Publication:
IC-479(16) -- June 19, 1998