28 March 2010

plants: Oh, Xylosma!

Oh, xylosma! 

How I admired the beautiful xylosma trees growing at the Natural Gardener, their multi-trunked stems and evergreen leaves arching over the small shrub section of the store. And so, I took the plunge and purchased one for the bed by our bedroom window. I needed something to create a canopy to screen us from the neighbors in winter.

Why now, do I question you, xylosma? Well, because as a gardener, I must be aware of the ecological decisions I’m making as well as the aesthetic ones.

The xylosma is a Japanese evergreen tree that looks not unlike a well-behaved and more structurally pretty version of our dreaded invasive Japanese ligustrum. It has shiny green leaves and very small black berries. The folks at Natural Gardener said that their specimen, probably 15-20 feet tall, had grown that much in six years. “Perfect,” I gasped! “Exactly what I need for this spot in my backyard.”

Here's what it looked like when planted early spring last year (dark green blob in the center of the image):

And now, maybe doubled in size:

Only now that my little tree is in my yard and growing at quite a clip, I sometimes question the decision, because this non-native plant has all the making of becoming an invasive mess some day. As far as I can tell, it’s well behaved now, but it (1) grows fast, (2) has no natural pests on U.S. soil, and (3) makes little black berries. Now, all of these things could easily help this tree spread all over the damn place. So I ask myself: am I, like “innocent” gardeners everywhere, responsible for the eventual spread of an invasive species? Oh, I would feel terrible about that. 

This xylosma will play absolutely no role in the ecosystem here. No insects can use it as food. No birds can eat those insects. I feel that I would’ve been better off planting something in that space that actually fit in with the ecosystem.

Well, perhaps birds can use it’s thick evergreen canopy to build a nest. And maybe they’ll benefit from the black berries without spreading them around. (Are they sterile?) But it saddens me that no butterflies, moths, beetles, flies—no nothing—will find this a suitable host. At least for many years. But I'm pretty darn sure that I'll enjoy it, and isn't that worth something?

In the end, I’ll leave this tree and probably love it. Perhaps I already do love it. When I can no longer see the neighbors’ roofs and I can hang lights or birdfeeders from this tree, when it casts lovely shadows in the bedroom, maybe I’ll forget all of these concerns. Regardless, it’ll still be a quiet lonely tree, far from its home and community.


Paul said...

I bought 2 from the same place last year and they've more than doubled in size (virtually zero die-back from the late frost and snow). They're mutants.

Mine were placed alongside a chainlink fence shared with a convenience store, so I'm content...they can grow as big as they want and will always serve a purpose.

Anonymous said...

appreciate your ethical struggle. but it looks like a lovely tree!

Anonymous said...

Xylosma is native to the United States. Check the Wildflower Center website.

Lee said...

Well, my goodness. Yes, there is a xylosma native to Texas, but it is Xylosma flexuosa. Unfortunately, that's not the one we have! Too bad, because it sounds like an awesome plant.

What we have is Xylosma congestum (I think) which is also called shiny leaf xylosma. Non-native.

But thanks for pointing out that we do have a native. It goes to show how related our plants are, even across continents...

elladog said...

By now you've probably made up your mind about your Xylosma, but I thought I'd let you know my experience. I have a Xylosma planted to screen my bedroom window, too. It's about 40 years old and over 20 feet high, and provides great shade. I have never seen any sign of its becoming invasive. It will send up occasional suckers from the roots near the surface, but they are easily trimmed back. So here in Southern California, it's a well-mannered tree. As I convert to a native plant garden, it's one of the non-natives I'm keeping. It's had nothing but natural rainfall for water for the past several years, and has survived a drought.

Tall Mohammad said...

I have 13 Xylosmas planted by the orgiginal builder of our MCM home in Central Cali. The form a wonderful 30 foot tall privacy wall in our backyard.
The Xylosmas are all a buzz right now as they are every late summer/early fall. The bees love xylosma blossoms and are frantically gathering as much xylosma pollen as they can.

Chris said...

I hate our 14 xylosmas because they cost me about 30 hrs a year to maintain, but they are covered with bees about 3 months out of the year.

Unknown said...

I love my xylozma. They are a fabulous screen. They are a beautiful green. Their trunk structure is so interesting. Most of my xylozma growing neighbors have pruned them into hedges. I prefer to let them do their thing. I’m in the Central Valley of CA.

Cease said...

How far away should I plant my xylosma from a retaining wall ? I'm about 3 or 4 feet higher the the neighbor and concerned about the root system pushing it when it gets bigger. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks