Ninebark often a useful addition to landscaping
A hardy deciduous shrub common in forests and woods east of the Cascade Mountains in the intermountain in the western United States and Canada. Ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus), like a cat, can have nine lives. On older stems, the distinctive cinnamon-colored bark peels off in uneven bands, in as many as nine layers, it has been said.
Another characteristic contributing to its longevity is its ability to survive wildfires. Often referred to as a “root-crowned shrub,” Ninebark develops rhizomes, partially or completely buried in the soil where it grows. These buried root crowns produce tender shoots for up to three years after a fire, providing early nutrition for animals. As Ninebark matures, developing a coarser texture, it becomes less attractive to wildlife. Other shrubs returning to the understory, such as coeanothus, spiraea, snowberry and serviceberry are preferred.
In a garden, this sun-loving, drought-tolerant shrub grows up to 6-7 feet tall with arching stems. It takes advantage of pruning to create a denser, evenly shaped bush. Cut back up to a third after it blooms in May-June but before August to ensure flowering the following season.
The leaves are dark green, similar to a maple leaf, but more lobed than pointed. Round, dense clusters of small, white flowers with stamens extending beyond the ring of petals appear as fluffy balls at the tips of leafy stems. Attractive to bees and butterflies, Ninebark is an excellent choice in a pollinator garden or area of dry soil.
Planted in clusters or rows, Ninebark can form dense thickets that provide shelter for wildlife. It is also good for screens, windbreaks and revegetating disturbed areas. This member of the rose family is not picky about soil type, including dry and rocky. The spring bloom is remarkable and the fall brings a rich rusty brown color.
Ninebark is at home in the dry rock habitat of the North Idaho Native Plant Arboretum, 611 S Ella Ave. A description can be found on page 91 of the KNPS publication, “Landscaping with Native Plants in the Idaho Panhandle,” available at local bookstores and the Bonner County History Museum.
Native Plant Notes are created by the Kinnikinnick Native Plant Society. To learn more about KNPS and the North Idaho Native Plant Arboretum, visit www.nativeplantsociety.org.