Clonal Woody Plants

Likely as not, a large thicket of many plants that all look alike is in fact a multitude of clones from just a few plants, thaSweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), a clonal native shrubt have sent out root suckers. If one is willing to wait five to ten years, a low budget planting plan with clonal species can yield impressive coverage. Sumac clones can be twenty to thirty feet tall, and make a fine hedge. Scattered aromatic sweet fern (Comptonia) will coalesce to form a low spreading cover on a sandy slope. A few sweet pepper bush (Clethra) shrubs will become a a mass of white fragrant flowers in early summer. Patch-forming native woody species, that form large, even homogeneous masses are actually very well suited to formal landscaping,  contrasting with isolated specimen plants. Other excellent clonal shrubs for use in landscaping are gray dogwoods,  chokeberries (Aronia spp.) ,  and bayberries.

A knee-jerk reaction might be that with a few large clones,  we have few species and low genetic diversity, not a desirable situation, ecologically.  In fact these species form clones wherever they grow in the wild or human designed landscapes.  From the perspective of insects, tree frogs,  and birds,  larger patches make for more energy efficient foraging. A flock of cedar wax wings will settle down to feed for an afternoon on a sizable patch of  chokeberry or gray dogwood  and the nectar from a Clethra colony is a  significant food source for a bee colony.  Its easier than hunting for widely scattered fruiting or blooming shrubs!  Of course, taken to an extreme, a large monoculture or plantation often leads to pest infestations.  Landscaping with clonal native woody shrubs is not only economical for us, it is energy efficient for the creatures further up the food chain.

About sigrungadwa

Consulting Ecologist and Registered Soil Scientist. My firm, Carya Ecological Services, LLC conducts inventories of vegetation, wetlands, and habitat; wetland delineations; and ecological assessments - for open space grants, application reviews, and applications for open space/cluster developments. We work either as the lead firm or as a subconsultant. I have a Masters Degree from UCONN-Storrs, Dept of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (1997) & a Bachelors from Brown U. in Biology.
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