When I first learned of this plant some years ago, immediately thoughts of Jeff Foxworthy’s blue collar humor were conjured in my mind. For those of you who don’t know Jeff Foxworthy, he is one of the most successful comedians today whose coined catchphrase, “You might be a redneck” explores the humorous side of family interactions and that of human nature. Lines like, “If you think the last line to The Star- Spangled Banner is gentleman start your engines, you might be a redneck,” has propelled a career finding common ground. The playful, common name, Redneck Rhododendron, is sure much easier to remember than its Latin nomenclature, Daphniphyllum macropodum.
Used in Japan as “an ornament for the new year to celebrate the good relationship of old and new generations,” Daphniphyllum has another common name, false Daphne which is still being deliberated. Redneck Rhododendron is an evergreen shrub which can obtain heights of 10 to 20 feet tall and wide. It can be manipulated into a fine smaller tree simply by limbing up the bottom braches. Glossy, rhododendron-like foliage is oblong and almost leathery in appearance. The bottom of the foliage is a silvery, grayish-blue, and reminiscent of Magnolia virginiana (Sweetbay Magnolia). I have a fabulous picture of the new growth erupting gold, suspended on bright red petioles (leaf stalks) all of which is held over the previous year’s growth, which has hardened to a dark, glossy green. A member of the Daphniphyllaceae family, shared by about 25 species, all of which are evergreen shrubs or trees native to east and southeast Asia. Daphniphyllum is dioecious, male flowers are on one plant and the female flowers are on another. The flowers, borne in May, are inconspicuous, pale green, 1” long racemes and its fruits are bluish-black drupes. If you are not always looking at the plant in May, you may just miss the flowers. For the academics out there reading this, yes the plant is listed as a zone 7. However, “Raulston reported no damage to plants at 2 degrees Fahrenheit in Raleigh, NC.” Given to my brother-in-law as a gift last year, his redneck rhododendron easily survived the winter in Berkeley Heights, NJ. In fact, it came through unblemished without the aid of any anti-desiccant or a burlap wall. His siting mimics that of indigenous plants in that he planted his in a filtered light area with moist, well drained soil.
Useful as a single specimen, Daphniphyllum would be brilliant in a container by your pool all summer long. Offering unique texture with its bold foliage, it could even be under planted with the likes of Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola (Golden Variegated Japanese Forest Grass) or Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (Black Mondo Grass). Another application could include a screening in lieu of viburnum or native rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum). Incidentally, it is believed the common name of this plant was derived from the similarities to that of native rhododendron.
Tips for growing Daphniphyllum successfully include giving them ample humus or a slow release fertilizer the end of winter. Since new shoots and flowers develop during the spring time, this will prove useful and increase vigor. Site your plants in partial sun and be mindful of the soil. Remember to avoid heavy clay soils and strive for moist, well drained ones. When watering this plant and other plants, it is important to give them a good drink. However, if your mulch starts to lift and float away, you may be watering to heavy. Try to visit your plants 2 to 3 times a week with your garden hose.
For months I have wanted to talk about this plant. I thought it appropriate though, to talk about it this month given the climatic conditions facing us all now. During November we have all thought about or have turned off outside faucets for the year. However, before you do this, it would be prudent on your behalf to give your plants one last, long, slow drink for the winter. Also, mulching your plants with about two inches of bark would do them considerable good. Lastly, spraying your broadleaf evergreens (azaleas, hollies, laurels and redneck rhododendrons) with an anti-desiccant and or wrapping them with some burlap for the winter would be beneficial. Anti-desiccants sprays are like putting a windbreaker on your plants for the winter. They help hold moisture in the plant and shed some of the harsh, drying winds that winter can dish out. If you have Daphniphyllum in your garden, “you might just be a redneck.”