Vitex will grow where lilac won’t

Vitex will grow where lilac won’t

Not many plants, trees or flowers can boast that they bloom continuously for months on end. But the vitex can! It is a sure-fire winner for your yard. This purple bloomer is an excellent choice for our smaller, modern suburban landscapes.

You may know this small tree or bush by other names. Some folks call this specimen tree a “chaste tree.” I’ve also heard it called Hemp tree, sage tree, Indian Spice tree and monk’s pepper. It is native to China and India but became a “resident” of America hundreds of years ago.

The common name “chaste tree” came about when herbal medicines were used before western industrialized medicines were available. As interest in herbal medicines and remedies is increasing, it might be fun to note some of the original uses for the vitex. Pliny, the great writer on natural history, said the seeds taste like wine and when a drink is made of them, it would reduce fevers and stimulate perspiration. European herbalism talks about vitex to promote nursing in mothers. “Throughout history, vitex has been associated with sexual passion or lack of. It was thought to ‘help those who would live chaste,’” according to Christopher Hobbs,

The vitex tree has great architecture if you take the time to prune off the extra lower branches and help it form into a tree shape. Just prune by clearing out the twiggy limbs or any limbs that look crossed or out of place. Since the lovely vitex blooms on new wood (unlike many other blooming plants) you don’t have to worry about cutting off the blooms when you shape her up. Just like a crape myrtle tree, when you gently trim off spent blooms, you encourage a whole new cycle of flowers. The black or brown seeds are fragrant too.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that in addition to having the most lovely purple blooms, the chaste tree attracts tons of pollinators like honeybees, bumblebees and other insects like fluttering butterflies. They love the sweet grape-like scent of the purple flowers.

The heat and humidity of our part of the world is no problem. They appreciate full sun and a location that drains well. The vitex is not particular about its soil. Once they are established, you don’t even have to worry about watering them often. If you have a desire for more vitex and don’t want to spend a penny, just take a few cuttings from the lower limbs, bury them in good soil and keep moist for a few weeks.

The vitex has been cultivated in North America since about 1670, according to American nurseryman Peter Henderson. It’s sort of our equivalent to the northern gardener’s lilac, which does not like our hot weather. Dr. William Welch of Texas A&M says that vitex is a member of the Vervain family. He adds that the older strains had small spikes of flowers in pale lilac, mauve, off-white or light pink. Now you can find modern and improved varieties such as Montrose Purple, Le Compte or Salinas Pink, which has spikes as long as 12 inches in length. I’m looking for a couple of the new varieties. Wish me luck.

Important calendar update

The 44th annual Fruit and Vegetable Show sponsored by the Jefferson County Horticulture Committee and Central Mall has been re-scheduled for October 2016. The date and time will be announced later. Information received from growers in Jefferson, Orange, Hardin, Tyler and other area counties about the effects of recent heavy rains led to the cancellation of the summer show. Ann Bares of the Jefferson County Horticultural Committee said, “These gardeners have participated in this event for many years, filling the tables with their produce and processed goods. Whether they lost a backyard garden full of tomatoes, a greenhouse with fragrant herbs, or acres of vegetables, their participation is important as we learn from them what’s new, adapted to our own gardens, and delicious. They are starting over, in many cases, and we support them in their recovery of the gardens.” We look forward the first Flower and Vegetable Show in the fall.


Joette Reger is an avid gardener and prides  herself on staying up-to-date on the latest gardening activities and tips. She can be reached by e-mail at joreger [at] msn [dot] com and on Facebook at “Gardengate with Joette Reger.”