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July 15, 2024

Color in the Garden: The Hopseed

By Sand Pilarski

hopseed branch

This, then is the fabled Hopseed.

The latin name for hopseed is Dodonea viscosa, and it is hardy in Zones 7 - 9, warmer climate zones that don't often freeze. The various varieties of dodonea are native to Australia, New Zealand, and southwestern United States.

Hopseed is a lovely tree to look at. I believe I saw them first in San Francisco, at Fisherman's Wharf. They'd been trimmed up about five feet high so that their graceful trunks were visible, and the purply-bronze foliage made a pretty umbrella above. I combined a hopseed in our front garden with a glossy-leaved white rhodedendron, and an arbutus (bright green leaves). Nice contrasts.

We moved from that house to this one, and the back bank was perfect for a hopseed; that back bank was as hot and dry as a Yuma mudflat. We had to use a pickaxe to make a hole for the shrubs. In this planting, we allowed the hopseed to be the focal point, with a lemon tree and a willow-leaf eucalyptus adding some different colors and textures. Once the hopseed was old enough, we stripped off the lower branches.

hopseed branch

There isn't a "bloom" as such with hopseed; they're grown for their colored foliage and for their resistance to heat and drought. But they do produce a pretty cluster of seeds, ranging from this light pink and green (where it's shady) to a darker rose and purple in the sun.

hopseed branch

I've seen them used effectively as hedges as well as focal points of gardens. In the winter, our birds nibble at the dried seed heads.

The seed heads are what retailers forget to mention. As the tree matures, it produces more of the seed heads, some of which will germinate and give you more hopseed trees. Not a bad thing, if you like them and have a place for them.

But the seeds are a very bad thing if you plant a hopseed on the windward side of a swimming pool. It's the nature of the plant to produce its seeds, and it is the nature of the seeds to fall to the ground or travel on the wind. Our patio can be ankle deep in crunchy seed heads at times.

I don't think of this as a "messy" tree -- that's reserved for birches and their filthy sticky exudate or liquidamber (sweet gum) and its spiny balls -- but if you want a cleanly swept yard or deck, hopseed is probably not the tree for you.

hopseed branch

The last picture gives an indication of how many of the little winged seeds can grow on one small branch. Multiply that by a 20-ft tree and yes, that's a lot of seeds to hop around.

Nevertheless, I love it, and it looks fabulous above the rampant spider plants who masquerade as ground cover.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-10-23
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