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Heirloom tree receives 2002 Medallion award
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Not all award-winning plants for 2002 are new, and the Mississippi Medallion Plant Selections Committee is announcing this spring that a small, heirloom tree is a 2002 winner.
Vitex, or lilac chaste tree, is native to Sicily and is a member of the verbena family. It was recognized by the Greeks for its medicinal properties, and it is recorded to have been in cultivation in British gardens since 1570.
Today, this award-winning tree is definitely seeing a revival across the South. No one will fail to take notice of a blooming vitex. It is loaded with fragrant, bright-blue flowers resembling those of a buddleia but held erect. Not only are there the standard blue varieties but also pink and white flowered forms as well.
The vitex can be grown as an small, elegant tree reaching 15 to 20 feet in height or kept as a large shrub with regular pruning. As a shrub, it is at home in the perennial or cottage garden. As a small tree, use it as an accent or specimen.
Choose a well-drained and fertile bed in full sun. Dig the planting hole three to five times as wide as the rootball, but no deeper. The top of the rootball should be even with the soil profile. If planting in mid-summer, form a 4-inch berm outside the rootball area that is large enough to hold five gallons of water. The berm makes it easy to direct water to the needed area. Remove the berm after the first year.
Deciduous and easy to grow, vitex has virtually no pests or diseases. Feed in late winter with an application of a slow-release, 12-6-6 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planted area.
After the bloom cycle, deadhead blossoms and give another light application of fertilizer. Maintain adequate moisture and another bloom cycle will occur toward the end of summer.
The vitex/lilac chaste tree also has the common name of Monk's tree. The fruit or seedpods were dried and made into a powder for ingesting. Supposedly, it diminished the passionate desires of the monks. In ancient Greece, it is said that the dames of Athens during the feast of the goddess Ceres, made their pallets and beds with the leaves thereof, to cool the heat of lust and to keep themselves chaste for a time.
It's doubtful that this is a marketing tool today for the vitex, but it is reassuring to know that great heirloom trees like the lilac chaste tree will be around for years to come because they are superior and Mississippi Medallion award winning, too. Shop at your local garden center now for best selections.
The Mississippi Medallion Award program is in its seventh year and has been recognized in national magazines for its effectiveness. It is a joint effort of the Mississippi Plant Selections Committee, Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association, Mississippi State University Extension Service and Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.
Past Mississippi Medallion award winners include pentas (Butterfly series), Kathy Ann yaupon holly, burgundy lorapetalum, the Wave petunia series, yellow shrimp plant, oakleaf hydrangea, Japanese maple, panolas, Indian summer rudbeckia, Biloxi blue verbena, Tonto crape myrtle, Sioux crape myrtle, narrow leaf zinnias, Victoria blue salvia, melampodium, new wonder scaevola, little gem magnolia, blue daze evolvulus and new gold lantana.