Clonal Woody Plants

Likely as not, a large thicket of many plants that all look alike is in fact a multitude of clones from just a few plants, thaSweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), a clonal native shrubt have sent out root suckers. If one is willing to wait five to ten years, a low budget planting plan with clonal species can yield impressive coverage. Sumac clones can be twenty to thirty feet tall, and make a fine hedge. Scattered aromatic sweet fern (Comptonia) will coalesce to form a low spreading cover on a sandy slope. A few sweet pepper bush (Clethra) shrubs will become a a mass of white fragrant flowers in early summer. Patch-forming native woody species, that form large, even homogeneous masses are actually very well suited to formal landscaping,  contrasting with isolated specimen plants. Other excellent clonal shrubs for use in landscaping are gray dogwoods,  chokeberries (Aronia spp.) ,  and bayberries.

A knee-jerk reaction might be that with a few large clones,  we have few species and low genetic diversity, not a desirable situation, ecologically.  In fact these species form clones wherever they grow in the wild or human designed landscapes.  From the perspective of insects, tree frogs,  and birds,  larger patches make for more energy efficient foraging. A flock of cedar wax wings will settle down to feed for an afternoon on a sizable patch of  chokeberry or gray dogwood  and the nectar from a Clethra colony is a  significant food source for a bee colony.  Its easier than hunting for widely scattered fruiting or blooming shrubs!  Of course, taken to an extreme, a large monoculture or plantation often leads to pest infestations.  Landscaping with clonal native woody shrubs is not only economical for us, it is energy efficient for the creatures further up the food chain.


About sigrungadwa

I am a consulting ecologist , professional wetland scientist, and registered soil scientist, based in Cheshire, Connecticut. I hold an MS from UConn Storrs in Ecology. My business, Carya Ecological Services, LLC, specializes in applying ecological principals and knowledge of native botany to a wide range of client projects.
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2 Responses to Clonal Woody Plants

  1. Anne Gadwa says:

    My dogwoods and spirea keep sending up unwanted volunteers. For small spaces these tendencies can be a bit unruly.

  2. sigrungadwa says:

    That is the drawback of clonal plants! Your Aunt Morli was telling me just today that their bamboo hedge keeps sending its suckers under the fence and into the neighbor’s yard. They’ve been advised to dig a perimeter trench as deep as the root zone, fill it with light mulch, and periodically move the mulch aside and slice off the new suckers. Bamboo is especially aggressive….. Thanks for the lead in to my next blog topic: clonal invasive plants, like Phragmites and Japanese knotweed!

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