Published August 12, 2012 | By Robert LaHoff
A few weeks ago my family took a “daycation” to the Jersey Shore. Traveling down to Long Branch for a little “fun in the sun,” we made our way back home in a most indirect way. Traveling through Oceanport, Little Silver, Rumson and Red Bank, I saw a small tree represented, more than once, as a foundation planting and doing exceedingly well. A tree that, I know, has been criticized for being invasive in some parts of the country, but is very well suited for seaside applications. Of course I’m talking about Tamarix, Tamarix ramosissima.
Most of us in the industry know that daylilies, hydrangea, Hollywood Juniper, Knock Out Roses, Japanese Black Pine and ornamental grasses all flourish down the Jersey Shore. Add to this list, if you will, Tamarix or Tamarisk. A large shrub or small tree, Tamarix typically reaches 10-15 feet high and a bit less in spread. An attraction, for me, is the fine, scale-like foliage that is bright green, reminiscent of juniper. Interesting rosy-pink, slender, 1-3” long racemes form large terminal panicles in June and July should begin to paint a picture as to why it took me so long to get home that day. Tremendously salt tolerant, Tamarix flowers for about 4-6 weeks and goes by another common name… Saltcedar. Aptly named because it is not only tolerant to saline conditions, they also produce salt, often encrusted with salt secretions. Capable of taking up salt from deep ground water, storing it in their foliage, eventually it gets washed away during heavy rains. Appreciative of sunny locations, Tamarix survives in virtually any soil type and is useful as a windbreak or informal hedge and can effectively be used on dry slopes for erosion control. Prune this rugged shrub in late winter or early spring and Tamarix will thank you, for the haircut, responding with more flowers on new wood. Don’t be afraid to prune aggressively as Tamarisk will bounce back the same way Buddleia do.
They are a handful of cultivars to be on the look out for. ‘Cheyenne Red’ has deeper pink flowers than the species. ‘Rosea’, considered one of the “hardiest” cultivars, has rosy-pink flowers that seem to happen just a bit later than other types. ‘Summer Glow’ has dense, feathery, blue-tinged foliage and ‘Pink Cascade’ has slightly richer pink flowers than ‘Rosea’. All are vigorous growers! Which leads to the argument on the other side of the fence. How aggressive is Tamarix and where is it considered most “invasive”?
A simple Google search and you will see as much good about this plant as you will see bad. The word “INVASIVE” seems to come up too. I bring this up not to scare the reader, rather to educate them. Tamarisk, according to many accounts, is invasive in the WESTERN PART of the United States. In fact there have been many research papers submitted on how to control and eliminate Tamarix species. Native from Southeastern Europe to central Asia, Tamarix is “hardy” from zones 2-8. It is in the warmer winter climates that this unusual tree is considered a problem. Dropping seed into the water can, and will, further colonization downstream. Hence, why many, in that part of the country, see it for what it is there.
There are 2 sides to any argument. Many people love the attributes that Saltcedar has, while others see it as a problem. For me, I appreciate both sides. However, it ‘s hard to deny the beauty of the plant in the summer down the Jersey Shore. Be mindful to see Tamarix for what it is, a handsome plant in the summer along coastal regions. Tamarisk is not something to marvel at during the winter. Really rather a scrubby thing to look at, its coarse appearance would benefit from a small buffer. Known, it seems, forever, Tamarix have been referenced in Genesis 21:33 and the Quran 34:16. Clearly its cultural history has had the attention of many. Finally, for those of you considering this unique tree, perhaps as a container plant around your patio for the summer, recognize that high fertility soils do this plant no good. For me the equation to great success for your garden remains, right plant, right place! Maybe Saltcedars only real purpose is for those to enjoy in the east at the shore. Finally, as my family made its way home that day, I certainly enjoyed the 3 specimens I saw. All looked to be doing quite well and none seemed to pose a threat to their surrounding green friends.
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