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Somehow, this plant escaped my notice, and boy do I feel silly. It has everything I love in a plant. Dramatic, cascading, pendulous, prolific, foot-long green flowers! Which is quite enough for me. But it’s fragrant, bee-friendly, and evergreen to boot? I am dying.

“Incredibly elegant,” and “the effect of a chandelier or waterfall,” says Xera Plants. Indeed. It’s hard to say what makes a plant elegant, but you know it when you see it. That gooseneck in the flower turning downward. Love.

itea ilicifolia by lmc
Photo courtesy of lmc

How many times have I passed it by, thinking it was just some plain-old holly leaved shrub? (No offense to hollies.) Maybe I missed its charms in a small nursery pot, before the flowers get devastatingly, beautifully drape-y.

Itea ilicifolia By The Magnolias
Photo courtesy of

It really shines when it gets big enough to hold flowers out and away from the foliage, allowing them to dangle and sway in the breeze. They’re like Alice and Wonderland style giant catkins.

Itea ilicifolia By The Magnolias
Photo courtesy of

So you don’t make the mistake I made, passing it up when it was within reach, check out a young plant in a nursery, as captured by Patricia on a nursery visit where we both let it slip through our fingers. Next time you see its softly spiny foliage and pale green flowers, stop and take a closer look.

Where would you put it? It’s surprisingly versatile as a 10′ screening shrub for the border, or espaliered, or even trained as a vine(?!).

Itea ilicifolia by Patricia Cunningham

How to make Itea ilicofolia happy?

  • Sun or Shade, if protected from the hottest rays of the day
  • Rich soil and regular summer water
  • Pray for a winter that doesn’t involve subfreezing winds

Thanks to A. Barra for the cover photo, which initially caught my eye.

Happy Gardening!