Plant of the Month
Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Snow Flurry’
What: Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Snow Flurry’
Type: Evergreen Shrub
Light: Likes full sun but can take a touch of shade
Soil: Well drained (but adaptable to clay soils)
Water: Deep infrequent watering-after establishment.
This is a dependable selection originating from the central coast and is most happy when grown not too many miles from the soothing influences of the Pacific. It is a large Ceanothus with arching branches, glossy green leaves, and the profuse clusters of white flowers that appear in spring, creating a snowy effect. Flowers begin as early as January and can continue through April.
Fast growing and evergreen, this is normally a 10-12 foot high plant with an equal or even greater spread. But in ideal situations this shrub can reach up to 20 feet high with a 22 foot spread very quickly if allowed. Here at GWC Native Garden it reached over 25 feet as a tree after we “lifted” its lower branches to create a lovely multi-trunked tree. Its growth it can be trained when it is younger by pinching new growth to create a denser shorter shrub. This is the type of “pruning” Ceanothus receives in nature when deer browse on tender new growth. Surprisingly, I have even seen this plant in commercial landscapes, sheared several times a year at around 4 feet high and respond well, but of course repeated shearing means few flowers.
‘Snow Flurry’ is an ideal shrub for coastal locations and can be placed on a slope or used as a backdrop. As mentioned, if the lower branches are removed as it grows, it can be an endearing patio sized tree. For a quick growing large-scale screen of natives it can be combined with California Coffeeberry, Western Mountain Mahogany, Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’, Toyon, Flannelbush species, and Hollyleaf Cherry.
Waterwise this can be a surprisingly garden tolerant plant, accepting of more water than some would think. But for those wishing to keep a low water bill, once the plant is established little or no supplemental water is required. In an inland location ‘Snow Flurry’ should be planted in partial shade. The hotter the inland area, the less likely this plant will grow successfully-Riverside? It will need a bit of shade in the afternoon and a bit more water that’s for sure-but even then I doubt it would be very happy.
Miscellaneous: Ceanothus ‘Snow Flurry’ is a horticultural selection of Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. thyrsiflorus collected along the Big Sur coast by Joseph Solomone and introduced 1977. Ceanothus has many ethnobotanical uses. Native Americans would mix the flowers with water to create a soapy detergent. (It works!) Roots and leaves have reputed medicinal properties, and the long, flexible stems of some species are used in basket-making. The common name for Ceanothus americanus, a species from the eastern United States, is New Jersey Tea, which refers to its use during the Revolutionary War as a substitute for traditional British tea.
NOTE: Several years ago our giant Ceanothus ‘Snow Flurry’ split and toppled during a heavy windstorm. The replacement was planted this last November and so don’t search the garden for the large specimen described above! Ours is a little fellow but is already trying to bloom.