Plant of the Week: Gibraltar bushclover

Lespedeza thunbergii 'Gibraltar', or Gibraltar bushclover, is a medium-sized, shrub-like, late-flowering perennial in the pea family (Fabaceae). Originally native to Japan and China, Lespedeza thunbergii has naturalized throughout much of the Northeast United States. The cultivar 'Gibraltar' was discovered by the plantsman Bill Fredrick around 1990. It was selected for its vivid rosy pink flowers and shorter stature than other Lespedeza species. The cultivar's name pays homage to the historic Gibraltar estate in Wilmington, Delaware where it was first discovered.

Growing to a height of five feet in a single season, this fast growing perennial requires rejuvenation pruning each spring to allow for next season's growth. Throughout late summer and early fall, Lespedeza's four to five-foot cascading branches are covered in dozens of six to eight inch-long racemes of bright magenta pea flowers. In winter, with the weight of the flowers and leaves gone, its appearance changes to one of a wiry, upright, sculptural form.

Like all plants in the Fabaceae family, the roots of Lespedeza house bacteria referred to as rhizobia. The symbiotic relationship between this bacteria and the roots allows the bacteria to extract gaseous nitrogen from air within the soil in exchange for carbohydrates. With the natural decay of fallen plant material, nitrogen is made available to other plants in the surrounding soil. This is a great for the environment as it lessens the need for nitrogen fertilizers.

After a snow and ice storm, the delicate architectural silhouette becomes a focal point in the winter landscape. If you are looking for a dynamic plant that will look as spectacular in winter as it does in spring, summer and fall, Lespedeza thunbergii 'Gibraltar' is truly a plant with year-round appeal.

PLANTING TIP:
Plant in full sun in well drained, average soil. Gilbraltar bushclover is drought tolerant once it is established. It should be cut back hard in early spring to allow for new growth, and is cold tolerant from USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 7.

WHERE TO FIND THIS PLANT:
Lespedeza thunbergii 'Gibraltar' can be spotted in the Washington Grasslands, near Little West 12th Street.

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