Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus)
This HAS to be one of my favorite plants in my landscape. It has been blooming since early July and it keeps my hummingbirds really happy. If you notice I have columnar apples on either side of the Chasteberry and the hummers rest on the apple branches (which are right in front of my living room windows) between feedings.
For some reason this plant is not popular. It should be as it is WAY hardier than a Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) yet looks very similar from a distance. Possibly its lack of popularity in this area lies in the fact that most of the time it is listed as a zone 6 plant (although so is Butterfly Bush). Northwest Ohio is zone 5. The plant in the photo above has been in my south landscape for five years. The first three years I just let it grow. After it reached about 8′, I began pruning it to 2′ each April. It grows about 4 – 6 feet each year. Don’t let the term Chaste “tree” scare you. Around here it acts like a perennial, with almost all new growth coming from the lower branches or at the base of the plant. The winter of 2008-09 was especially cold (remember -15?). So I wondered what it might do. Before I could get to it my ‘Pruning Hubby’ decided to help me….with the chain saw! Yup, he sawed my three Chasteberries FLUSH with the ground. I was certain they were goners. It took a while, but by mid May I finally noticed leaves and, well, as you see above, they are awesome this year – nice and compact due to that severe pruning.
This morning I decided to look up why it is called a Chasteberry. Honestly, I had no idea what the word Chaste meant. So that was a surprise! Here is what the FreeDictionary.com says:
adj. chast·er, chast·est
1. Morally pure in thought or conduct; decent and modest.
a. Not having experienced sexual intercourse; virginal.
b. Abstaining from unlawful sexual intercourse.
c. Abstaining from all sexual intercourse; celibate.
3. Pure or simple in design or style; austere.
I guess I am glad they named it Chasteberry not Virginberry??? So strange! According to HerbalWisdom.com here is WHY they called it that…
“Agnus Castus has been used since ancient times as a female remedy. One of its properties was to reduce sexual desire and it is recorded that Roman wives whose husbands were abroad with the legions spread the aromatic leaves on their couches for this purpose. It became known as the chasteberry tree. During the Middle Ages, Chasteberry’s supposed effect on sexual desire led to it becoming a food spice at monasteries, where it was called “Monk’s pepper” or “Cloister pepper.”
Yes, the plant that calms sexual passion!
I just like it because looks great, attracts hummingbirds and has cool seeds. I may be looking at my Chasteberry a little differently this evening, but no matter what its name it is a noteworthy landscape plant. Give it some space and keep it on the dry side and enjoy it….whatever you do with it!
I enjoyed nature today. Did you?