The mountain fire andromeda (Pieris floribunda) is one of those native American shrubs which should be considered for almost every garden.
This low, broad-leaved evergreen shrub is occasionally found in the higher altitudes of the southern Appalachian Mountains but is completely hardy as far north as Boston.
It grows well in cultivation, produces beautiful early spring flowers and is one of those highly valued “low-maintenance” plants which when established seem to be able to take care of themselves indefinitely.
A Shrub Not To Be Overlooked
When we speak of broad-leaved evergreens in the northern United States, we usually think of mountain laurel and rhododendrons.
We frequently overlook this native pieris, which is just as good in many respects and accommodatingly grows in acid or slightly alkaline soil.
The mountain andromeda is valued highly for its flowers—upright terminal spikes of small white bell-like blooms borne in early spring at about the same time as the blossoms of the Japanese weeping cherry.
These flower spikes are 2 to 5 inches long and the small evergreen leaves about 3-1/2 inches long. One of this plant’s chief merits is the fact that the flower buds, formed during the summer growing period, are prominent all winter long. When these plants are observed through frosted windows in winter, the dormant flower buds are promising reminders that spring is just around the corner.
Usually this evergreen attains 5 to 6 feet in height and twice this in width.
Excellent for Foundation Planting
Consequently, it’s excellent for foundation planting or even for use as a specimen by the front doorstep or along the garden walk.
This shrub is definitely a low-maintenance plant because of its resistance to serious infestations of diseases or insects. In this respect, it is superior to many of our choicest garden plants.
Indeed when the andromeda shrub is planted in good soil and given a reasonable amount of moisture, it should be self-maintaining.
The mountain andromeda is propagated chiefly by seeds, although cuttings taken from half-mature side shoots can be rooted.
In Europe, the plant is propagated by layering, but it takes nearly two years for young plants to develop by this method.
In most places in America, the climate is so dry at some particular season that layers may not prove successful unless great care is taken to prevent the young plants with their very tender rootlets from drying out for even a single day.
Dense Growth Curving Branches
Every gardener likes to have a shrub which normally grows dense, with branches curving toward the ground on all sides. The mountain andromeda does just this.
If a branch dies or is broken off, the shrub can be carefully pruned so that some young wood is left near the opening caused by the missing branch.
Usually, it’s not long before new growth fills up such holes. This shrub can’t be sheared like privet, but it can be made to thicken, if necessary, by pinching the shoots here and there to force the production of additional branches.
The Arnold Arboretum had some plants of this species growing for over 70 years.
In fact, nothing serious ever seems to happen to them. Leaves do not discolor in winter and foliage is always a uniform green.
With over a half a century growing the mountain andromeda, it has proved itself to be one of the best broad leaved evergreens and well suited for a place in any garden.