In honor of Halloween, we've put together a list of a few "wicked cool" trees and shrubs that are sure to leave you spellbound. With their bold colors and textures, these plants are the perfect way to add a tasteful touch of the dark and dramatic to your landscape without committing to the haunted house aesthetic year-round.
'Soft Caress' Mahonia
Our first plant on the list comes with with a certain "spidery" feel: It is at once menacingly pointy and — as the name would suggest — invitingly soft. The good news is that, unlike other plants from the same genus, Mahonia eurybracteata 'Soft Caress' is all bark and no bite: Its foliage is totally thornless. Thriving in partial shade, the unusual, airy texture of this low-growing evergreen shrub will lend an air of intrigue to any garden. (For a similar effect, you could also try Helleborus foetida.)
'Pung Kil' Japanese Maple
Like Mahonia 'Soft Caress,' the deeply lobed foliage of Acer palmatum 'Pung Kil' is long and slender. With Halloween in mind, it's not much of a strech to see each leaf as a creepy little blood-red hand reaching toward us — especially when you consider that the species name palmatum translates to "hand-like." The foliage emerges a bright red in spring before fading to a deep purple in the summer. But in autumn, it brightens again to a brilliant scarlet! Best sited in sun to partial shade, this smaller-statured tree makes a wonderful focal point.
'Winged Phoenix' Hardy Schefflera
If you've ever seen an umbrella plant grown as a houseplant and wished you could have one outside, meet its hardier — and pointier — cousin: Schefflera taiwaniana 'Winged Phoenix.' This is another plant with palmate leaves that seem to reach out for you, but on a much larger scale. Its upright habit is sure to create a hauntingly beautiful highlight in your landscape for those in need of an architectural plant.
'Yukon Belle' Pyracantha
While they often go by their botanical name, you might also hear Pyracanthas referred to as firethorns, a common name that — to our ears at least — sounds like a pretty potent ingredient in a witches' brew! But no matter whether you prefer the botanical Latin or its English translation, if you've ever seen one of these plants in autumn, there's no question where the moniker comes from. Beginning in the fall, bright fruits in hues of red, orange, or yellow absolutely cover the thorn-laden branches of this evergreen shrub — often persisting well into the winter. The variety 'Yukon Belle' in particular boasts fruits of a deep orange color that plays nicely off of the Jack-o-lantern that will undoubtedly sit on your front porch come Halloween. Their thorns make this shrub a great option for a security planting beneath a window, and while their growth habit is somewhat irregular, they are easily trained into fantastic espaliered forms.
Barbed Wire Bush
Colletia hystrix is one plant that just looks wicked: It's thorns all the way down! It is very nearly leafless, which really makes the thorns on this living barbed wire stand out. But then in fall, tiny pink and white blooms appear all along those thorny branches around Halloween. This makes this large shrub — or small tree — a fantastic textural focal point.
Japanese Blood Grass
After mentioning so many plants with menacing thorns, we suppose it's only appropriate to introduce you to one with blood in its name. Meet Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron,' better known as Japanese Blood Grass. In the fall, the red hue taken on by this perennial grass transforms each blade into a bloody dagger. But don't worry — the effect in the garden is far less sinister than the bone-chilling name might suggest. If you want a pop of bright scarlet in autumn, this one will do it.
Monkey Puzzle Tree
The spiky, scaly branches of this South American conifer are absolutely unmistakable. Standing tall like some mysterious, many-armed reptilian creature on a hill, the iconic specimen growing at the Farm is more than a century old, but even young trees are a sight to behold. Here at the Farm, you'll often see crows hanigng out in the boughs of our Monkey Puzzle Tree — as seen above — which isn't a particularly unique feature, but we appreciate the image around this time of year. If you have the space and appreciate an oddity, this is one plant that definitely deserves a space in your garden, and we are fortunate to have a climate particularly suitable to their growth here in the Pacific Northwest.
Weeping Norway Spruce
The next plant on our list is positively dripping with character — and in more ways than one! Whenever we look at young specimens of this unique conifer, we can't help but be reminded of the full-body, flowing locks of Cousin Itt from the beloved 1964 Addams Family television series. (All we're missing is a bowler hat to complete the illusion!) But even apart from this striking resemblance, Picea abies 'Pendula' is one of those plants that commands a certain presence in the garden — perhaps because it is so easy to anthropomorphize. Its weeping habit is hunched and drooping, and no two specimens are exactly alike, endowing each with a sense of individuality and personality.
'Whipcord' Western Red Cedar
It may be a cultivar of our native Western Red Cedar, but you'd never know looking at it. This unusual conifer is another one that draws comparisons to Cousin Itt — just perhaps on a worse hair day! The fine texture of Thuja plicata 'Whipcord' is truly otherwordly, and more than earns it a spot on our list. Best sited in full to part sun, it fits much more neatly into home landscapes than the species, maturing to about five feet tall and wide.
'Center Glow' Ninebark
If you're looking for a plant with dramatic — and dare we say, goth — foliage, there is no shortage of fantastic options available to home gardeners, but one group of plants that we think is deserving of more attention is the Ninebarks — so named for the flaking ornamental bark that is revealed when they drop their leaves in late autumn. Recent breeding efforts have expanded the ornamental value offered by this genus of primarily North American natives to include colorful foliage. One of our favorite varieties is Physocarpus opulifolius 'Center Glow,' which offers smoky, coppery leaves that look absolutely beautiful at the back of a mixed border. Growing six to ten feet in full sun, this isn't a small shrub, but it has placed a spell on us, and we think it deserves a place in gardens that can accommodate its size.
Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion' brings a whole new color to our bewitching palette — and just in time for Halloween. The fall fruits that appear en masse on this shrub's branches aren't your typical red or dark purple, but a shocking magenta that beckons from across the garden, luring you over. Although with a color like this, you would expect the berries to be poisonous, they stop short at just being unappetizing. As such, we recommend leaving them in place for their ornamental and wildlife value. If the birds don't beat them to the punch, the berries will continue to hang on even after the leaves have turned yellow and fallen from the branches.
No matter your garden theme — or the time of year — Cornell Farm has a beautiful selection of plants to provide focal points in your landscape. Our experts on the ground would be happy to help you in selecting the perfect one to meet your needs on your next visit.