A Beautiful Plant with A Funny name
Common Name: Rainbow doghobble, leucothoe
Botanical Name: Leucothoe fontanesiana 'Rainbow'
Form: arching branches, vase shaped
Plant Type: evergreen shrub
Mature Size: fontanesiana
Growth: 2 to 4 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide
Origin: Southeastern USA
Hardiness Zone: 5 to 9, plant in a protected location
Foliage: thick, glossy, marbled variegation in creams, reds & pinks that turn burgundy in autumn, lance-shaped 4” long,
Flowers: showy, fragrant, white urn-shaped held in drooping clusters that hang from the undersides of the foliage in April, May
Fruit: brown, ¼” dry capsules held in clusters that hang down.
Stems: arching red stems with alternating leaves
Exposure: partial sun to shade
Soil: tolerant of acid, clay & sand, moist, acid soil best, add 3 inches of mulch on soil surface
Uses: specimen, massing, ground cover, foundation plant, hedges, underplanting for shrubs and trees, cottage
Maintenance: low, easy to grow, disease & pest free
Toxicity: toxic to cats, horses & dogs
Invasive Tendencies: none
Propagation: seed, semi-hardwood cuttings
Pruning: not necessary, but if needed do so after flowers fade
Problems: roots rot in wet soil, dislikes strong wind and drought
Rainbow leucothoes gets noticed for their unusual variegated green and cream foliage that forms rows along arching stems. New foliage is bright red, which fades to pink as the leaves mature. Variegation and marbling of the leaves differ from plant to plant, with some being more colourful than others.
It’s an attractive vase-shaped evergreen shrub that looks good all year long. Add them to borders, multistory plantings, cottage gardens and use them as accents and specimens throughout the garden. Because they prefer shade rather than full sun locations use them to bring colour, form and life to darker areas of the garden.
Leucothoes are native to the southeastern part of the US. Unlike the rainbow cultivar, they are plain green, but still have the densely packed arching stems. This makes them difficult to walk through, hence their common moniker, doghobble, as dogs can’t walk through them either.
The rainbow leucothoe, like all doghobbles, prefer a shady location, but can handle full sun in temperate climates and hot climates if the soil is moist. With that said, they will rot if the soil doesn’t drain well as they are not bog plants. They will grow in most soils but prefer it to be rich and moist with good drainage topped with a 3-inch layer of an organic mulch. The mulch keeps moisture in the soil and add nutrients.
Leucothoe’s lance-shaped leaves are leathery, glossy and colourful. Colours fade if there is too much shade and become bleached out where there is too much sun. Around April and May, slightly fragrant white flowers hang down from underneath the foliage. They dangle from the axils where the leaf stem (petiole) joins the stem in long lush clusters. A plethora of seed capsules follow. The seeds within are viable, however, cultivars do not come true from seed.
Coastal Leucothoe, L. axillaris is also referred to as coastal doghobble and fetterbush. It is a north American native that grows to 4 feet by 6 feet in width. It’s flowers are white, but with pinkish tinge. It grows best in USDA zones 6 to 9.