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Allegheny Spurge: A Native Ground Cover Plant for All Seasons

Allegheny Spurge 

In many cases, I've discovered the Asian counterpart of our native plants to be much showier, more robust and in many instances more floriferous than our native species. Take Claytonia, for example. Our native Claytonia virginica and Claytonia caroliniana are very early, beautiful little plants. But, although their flowers are lovely, they're very small and the entire plant is extremely ephemeral. On the other hand, Claytonia Sibirica has thicker, more deeply veined foliage and flowers for months.

One major exception to this rule is Pachysandra procumbens. P.p. is an East Coast member of the Buxaceae (Boxwood) family and is commonly referred to as "Allegheny Spurge". It's superior to the more commonly used (Asian) Pachysandra terminalis in virtually every respect.

The Asian Pachysandra terminalis is a very aggressive, stoloniferous thug in the garden. And although this can be a benefit if you want to fill in a very large area super fast, its well behaved American cousin, P. procumbens, is a clump forming groundcover that fills in an area slowly, but much more elegantly.

P. procumbens is hardy in most areas of the US, probably into zone 4, maybe even 3. In  zones 7-10 or during mild Winters elsewhere,  it stays evergreen. In colder areas it will be a herbaceous perennial.

In the early spring, P.p. shoots up really cool spikes of pink and white fragrant flowers that last for a week or two. Soon after the flowers have set seed, the first vegetative shoots poke their heads through the soil and their dark green leaves begin to unfold. In deep shade, the foliage remains a dark, luxurious green all summer. The more sun that the plants get, the lighter their leaves are. I planted a row in full sun as an experiment to test the plants extremes. The plants in the sun were healthy and productive, but the leaves were paler in color, some with an almost chloritic appearance. This is definitely a dappled to deep shade plant.

In the late summer to early fall, P.p. reminds us of the approaching Autumnal equinox by "opening its windows to let in more light". This effect takes its form as beautiful silvery mottling on the leaves that I can only compare to snowflakes in the respect that no two leaves are alike. Oh the joy of jumping around on the ground like a frog from plant to plant, trying to select the most striking patterns. In the end, they're all brilliant and unique.

P.p. is a very easy, but slow plant to propagate. You can take stem/leaf cuttings in the early spring, but rhizome divisions are quicker and easier. On a mature rhizome, there many "joints.” If you make a complete cut at each joint, leaving the plant above it with a few good roots intact, you will have several 2-4-inch pieces that you can pot up or lay out in a flat and cover with about a 1/2 inches of soil. Root pieces taken in the early spring, while the plants are still dormant, will produce new plants ready for planting the same season.

All in all, it's difficult to find a better, all around, more useful, adaptable ground cover plant than Pachysandra procumbens.

Barry Glick, the self-proclaimed “King of Helleborus,” grew up in Philadelphia in the ’60s, a mecca of horticulture. Barry cut high school classes to hitchhike to Longwood Gardens before he was old enough to drive. In 1972, he realized there was just not enough room for him and his plants in the big-city environment, so he bought 60 acres on a mountaintop in Greenbrier County, W.V., where he gave birth to Sunshine Farm & Gardens, a mail-order plant nursery. Barry grows more than 10,000 different plants and specializes in native plants and hellebores. He can be reached at 304.497.2208 or

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