An exception to a rule

By Barry Glick

In most cases, I have discovered that the Asian counterpart of many of our native plants is much showier, more robust and in many instances more floriferous than our specie. Take Claytonia for example, our native Claytonia virginica is a very early beautiful little plant. But, although its flowers are lovely, they are very small and the entire plant is extremely ephemeral. On the other hand Claytonia sibirica has thicker, more deeply veined foliage and flowers for months.

One major exception to this rule is Pachysandra procumbens. P.p. is an East Coast member of the Buxaceae (Boxwood) family and is commonly referred to as
"Allegheny Spurge". It is superior to the more commonly used (Asian) Pachysandra terminalis in virtually every respect.

The Asian P. terminalis is a very aggressive, stoloniferous thug in the garden. And although this can be a benefit if you want to fill in a very large area, super fast, its well behaved American cousin, P. procumbens, is a clump forming groundcover that fills in the area a little slower, but much more elegantly.

P. procumbens is hardy in most areas of the US, probably into zone 4, maybe even 3. In
zones 7-10 it stays evergreen. In colder areas it will be a herbaceous perennial.

In the early spring, when the ground is bare, P.p. shoots up these really cool spikes of pink and white fragrant flowers that last for a week or two. Soon after the flowers have set seed, the first shoots poke their heads through the soil and their dark green leaves begin to unfold. In deep shade,  the foliage remains a dark luxurious, green all summer. The more sun that the plants get, the lighter their leaves are. I planted a row in full sun as an experiment to push the plant to its extreme. The plants in the sun were healthy and productive but , the leaves were paler in color, some with an almost chlorotic  appearance. This is definitely a dappled to deep shade plant!

In the late summer to early fall, P.p. reminds us of the approaching Autumnal equinox by "opening its windows to let in more light". This effect takes its form as beautiful silvery mottling on the leaves that I can only compare to snowflakes in the respect that no two leaves are alike. Oh the joy of jumping around on the ground like a frog from plant to plant, trying to select the most striking patterns. In the end, they are all brilliant and unique.

P.p. is a very easy plant to propagate. You can take stem/leaf cuttings in the early spring, but rhizome divisions are quicker and easier. On a mature rhizome, there many "joints". If you make a complete cut at each joint, leaving the plant above it with a few good roots intact, you will have several 2"-4" pieces that you can pot up or lay out in a flat and cover with about a 1/2" of soil. Root pieces taken in the early spring, while the plants are still dormant, will produce new plants ready for planting the same season.

All in all, its hard to find a better, all around, more useful, adaptable ground cover plant than Pachysandra procumbens.