Kentucky Plant Life - Native Shrubs
The general difference between a shrub (or bush) and a tree is height of the mature plant. A number of plants can be shrubs or trees, depending on the environment. Generally, perennial woody plants that do not grow taller than 15 feet (4.5 meters), are termed "shrubs". Another recognizable difference is in the anatomy and appearance of the stem or trunk. A tree normally grows from one upright stem or trunk. On the other hand, a shrub can have multiple trunks, branching out from just above the ground. Kentucky native shrubs include both deciduous and evergreen varieties.
Common native shrubs of Kentucky include:
- Members of the Heath Family: Flame Azalea and Sandmyrtle
- Members of the Holly Family: American Holly, Mountain Winterberry, Swamp Holly, and Winterberry.
- Members of the Honeysuckle Family: Coralberry, Elderberry, Hobblebush and Mapleleaf Viburnum
- Members of the Rose Family: Downy Serviceberry and Smooth Serviceberry.
- Members of the Sumac Family: Fragrant Sumac, Smooth Sumac, Staghorn Sumac, and Winged Sumac.
- The Wild Hydrangea and Eastern Red Cedar, are also native shrub species found in Kentucky.
- Some sources list members of the Horse-Chestnut Family, including the Ohio Buckeye, as shrubs.
Photo by Paul Durr - Used with permission of the University of Tennessee Herbarium
The Sandmyrtle is a member of the Heath Family. This plant can live in a variety of growing conditions but flourishes best in cool moist soil and part shade. An evergreen shrub, it produces pinkish-white flowers, (as shown in the picture above), in late spring and generally grows to about 18 in. (45 cm) tall.
Elderberry Shrub and the Fruit of the Elderberry
Photos Copyright Steven J. Baskauf, Vanderbilt University. Used with permission. (Vanderbilt University Bioimages.)
The Elderberry or Common Elder is native to a large part of the eastern United States, including Kentucky. This deciduous shrub prefers a sunny location and grows to 10 feet (3 meters) or more in a variety of soils. In summer its flowers are large white corymbs, (pictured above left), and in the autumn, purple-black berries are produced in sagging clusters. All parts of the Elderberry are poisonous except the berries which are used for jellies, in winemaking and medicinal products.
Smooth Sumac, (pictured at left), is a spreading, bushy, deciduous shrub, that can reach heights of 10 feet or more (3 meters) under optimal growing conditions. It bears panicles of small green flowers in late spring/early summer, followed by larger panicles of crimson red berries on female plants that remain throughout the winter.