May is a great time of the year. We are typically past those terrible frosts and can go all in on our plant management practices and planting new plants. To continue with my series focusing on the 2016 plant selections from the Great Plants from the Great Plains group, I will move on to their selection for the shrub of the year, New Jersey Tea.
New Jersey Tea, Ceanothus americanus, is a shrubby perennial with semi-woody stems that grows up to 3 feet tall and wide. It blooms from May to June with many clusters of tiny, fragrant, white flowers. The individual flowers are 1/8 inch in size but are held together in a cluster that is 1-2 inches long. The leaves are arranged alternately on the stem and are 2-4 inches long and toothed. The leaves are dark shiny green on top and are pubescent on the bottom side of the leaf.
New Jersey Tea does well in full sun, dry locations. It will take average moisture but prefers the dry locations. It is a smaller shrub that can be used to entice butterflies and left to naturalize in prairie locations or grown as a border or specimen plant in other locations. Rabbits like this plant, so it may need to be fenced off to reduce damage from rabbits found in your landscape.
New Jersey Tea is a great choice for wildlife lovers, according the USDA NRCS. Rabbit, elk, and deer browse this plant while turkey and quail enjoy the berries. It is also attractive to many insects such as butterflies, bees, wasps, flies, and beetles. The USDA NRCS also states that Native American Tribes along the Missouri River used New Jersey Tea. They used the leaves for tea and the roots for fuel on hunting trips. It is also stated that recently, scientists have found that the roots contain a blood-clotting agent. It also was used by colonists in the Revolutionary War as a caffeine free alternative to tea. So, New Jersey tea is very beneficial to us now and has been beneficial for many generations.
New Jersey Tea is a beautiful shrub for many locations in your landscape. It is drought tolerant so it will do great in the hot, Nebraska summers. It is also a great plant for wildlife. Birds, butterflies, bees, rabbits, and deer enjoy this plant so it will bring a wide variety of wildlife for viewing and enjoying on your acreage. So the next time you need a new small shrub, choose New Jersey Tea, the Great Plants of the Great Plains 2016 choice for shrub of the year.