Leucothoe shrubs (pronounced “Lew-kohth-oh-wey”) are wonderful plants that offer evergreen structure and pretty color to a garden all year. They have a mounding form with branches that shoot from the base before drooping for a lovely shaggy structure. With insignificant flowers, these blueberry relatives instead feature easy-care maintenance and stunning foliage. All cultivars like part or dappled shade. They do have weird common names like “dog hobble” and “black laurel” and “fetterbush,” so I prefer their botanical name “Leucothoe.” Here are several cultivars I recommend that most gardeners in the U.S. can grow.
Leucothoe axillaris ‘Rejoyce’
This new cultivar has hot-red emerging foliage and then deep maroon older foliage with a lovely satiny surface that absorbs light and creates a dreamy haunting mood. It likes part or dappled shade and grows in a mound shape, topping off at three feet wide by three feet tall. Hardy down to zone 6.
Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’
This leucothoe is an oldie but a goodie, sporting red stems and buds, green-yellow marbled leaves, and deep maroon edging. It grows densely in a tall drooping mound. It likes to flourish under trees in dappled light. ‘Rainbow’ can grow to an immense size at five feet wide and tall, but it’s worth it. Hardy to zone 5. Incredibly striking.
Leucothoe axillaris ‘Coast’
I’ve noticed Coast Leucothoes have a darker green tone than their counterparts. Reddish color spreads through leaves in winter. What’s unusual about the Coast Leucothoe is the teeny bell-like flowers grow in clumps instead in a pattern along the stems, almost like a pieris. It tops out at five feet and is hardy to zone 5. If you want a deep-green curtain of foliage, this is the choice.
Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Zeblid’
This leucothoe’s common name is Scarletta Fetterbush so you may see it labeled as such. It’s an alluring introduction with a scattering of deep red leaves that all mostly turn purple in autumn. Scarletta is also a lower growing shrub, topping out at two by two feet wide and tall. It’s also hardy down to Zone 5 but if I were growing it in the upper midwest, I’d plant it in dappled shade under a tree just to ensure extra frost protection. Very pretty in winter.