Good Looking Plant

'Mountain Fire' Andromeda;
or, Fetterbush


"Now Time's Andromeda on this rock rude,
With not her either beauty's equal or
Her injury's, looks off by both horns of shore,
Her flower, her piece of being, doomed dragon's food."

-Gerard Manley Hopkins
(1844-1889)

   

Pieris japonica x floribunda 'Mountain Fire' gets its cultivar name reference to "fire" from the bright red leaves of late winter or early spring. These soon age to mahogany & chestnut, then to shiny green.

Being thoroughly evergreen, when spring's red leaves arrive, they are always mixed about with the previous year's leaves of pure green, thus at a glance it looks like red flowers bursting upon the bush.

PierisThe red foliage precedes the flowers, but not by long. Flowers of this clone are in full form by April, pendulous to partially upright chains of white urn-shaped flowers, long-lasting into May. These are followed in summer by small black berries.

After that early spring showing of fiery red, the leaves are green for the rest of the year. However, it does in some years have an unexpectedly late growth spurt, & new tip-leaves will be red, as in the third photo, below, which is from July, well after spent flowers have dropped.

Most andromeda cultivars are hybrids of two Asian species, P. japonica & P. formosa, & in general these are the varieties with the reddest spring foliage, & can be a little sensitive in the garden hence usually restricted to zones 7 & 8. But 'Mountain Fire' also has the North American species P. floribunda in its hybrid history, which lends it greater hardiness, so that it can be gardened further north.

And yet it seems never to become as drought-hardy as do many other cultivars, & if placed in a neglected garden, 'Mountain Fire' would likely die, though many other cultivars, once well rooted, would thrive in similar conditions.

'Mountain Fire' is additionally unfortunately susceptible to root-rot, & requires the best drainage in humus-rich acidic soil. It does not require a lot of water even though it cannot be subjected to drought, unless it's a very old large specimen.

PierisPieris or Andromeda is one of the key broadleaf evergreens for shaded temperate gardens, the other key examples being Aucuba japonica, Leucothoe sp, & camelias. It can be a denser & flowerier shrub with a bit more light, but if too greatly exposed is susceptible to summer sun-damage & winter wind-damage.

In a friend's enormous garden which I helped expand, over a dozen andromeda shrubs fill out an area between Japanese maples, & half of them are 'Mountain Fire' which are four to five feet tall. If one could find the wild pure form of P. japonica, it would grow to ten feet tall or so, with fat trunks & limbs, more like little trees than shrubs. In a shady alley near the Garden of Paghat the Ratgirl, there is an awesome old Pieris about fifteen feet tall, with an aucuba about as large intermingling their branches. 'Mountain Fire' & other modern hybrids are more compact than that, & 'Mountain Fire' is sufficiently slow-growing that a single specimen would not outgrow a smallish garden.

Its common name, Andromeda, was in Greek myth the name of a princess of Ethiopia who was chained to a sea wall, threatened by a Kraken until saved from sure doom by Perseus. The pendulous chains of Pieris flowers evoke the chains of the captive princess. The alternate name Fetterbush also alludes to her bondage in chains.

Andromeda is simultaneously the genus name of Bog Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia), so it is becoming increasingly common to just call them Pieris to avoid confusion. It is also occasionally known as the Lily-of-the-Valley Bush due to its flowers.

   



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