Not Just for Halloween

They’re Creepy and they’re Kooky, Mysterious and Spooky…”  The opening line to the quirky Addam’s Family song portrays their eccentric, morbid lifestyle. We think it can also apply to some sinister plants in our nursery. How so, you may ask?

Well, we’ve got some of our own “Addam’s Family” going on here, plants that have a dark side to them, some are so dark that we’re going to call them “black.” With Halloween right around the corner, we thought this would be the perfect time to showcase some of these bewitching plants, not that you have to use them just for Halloween. These plants will add a bit of mystery to your garden year-round. They come in different forms, some mysterious, some spooky and maybe even a few that are kooky.

The first one on our list is a ground cover, Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’). This evergreen shade plant creates eerie pools of blackness for borders or containers. It likes well-drained soil with lots of organic material and thrives in eastern exposures. In this photo it’s used as a border.

Black Mondo Grass surrounded by Red-leafed Bedding Begonias, Firecracker Fountain Grass, Coleus and others.

Need another ground cover on the dark side? How about Carpet bugle (Ajuga reptans)? This low-growing ground cover spreads by runners and will make a mat of dark greenish-purple leaves that get about 4” high. It can be grown in areas with full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil.
Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ (Dutch for “black head”), sometimes called the ‘Black Rose’ because of its dark burgundy-black rosettes of leaves, creates a ghoulish presence in your garden. It can grow to 3’ tall and wide with yellow flowers in spring or summer; prefers full sun, sandy soil and moderate water. Aeoniums are native to the Spanish Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco.
 
 
Aeonium 'Zwartkop' - Black Rose
 
Combine these dark plants with others such as Coleus, Heuchera ‘Plum Royale’, Pittosporum ‘Silver Sheen’ with its dark stems, Pennisetum’s burgundy-red blades, or Loropetalum chinense ‘Plum Delight’
 
 
Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Silver Sheen'
 
Accent with Cordyline ‘Red Star’ or the Malagasy Tree Aloe (Aloe vaombe). Malagasy Tree Aloe is a sinister-looking tree aloe native to the southern coast of Madagascar with tentacle-like leaves that seem to  be reaching out to wrap themselves around you. This Aloe can grow up to 12’ tall and makes a beautiful accent in January when it’s in bloom.
 
 
Aloe vaombe - Malagasy Tree Aloe
 
Check out this Royal Hawaiian Elephant’s Ear (Colocasia esculenta ‘Royal Hawaiian’). The dark veins in the leaves are like a skeleton growing in your garden. These like filtered shade and ample water. They can grow to 6’ tall so give them plenty of room. Another similar plant with black leaves is Black Magic Elephant's Ear (Colocasia esculenta 'Black Magic').
 
 
Colocasia esculenta ‘Royal Hawaiian’ - Royal Hawaiian Elephant Ears
 
Trees that aren’t quite black but have dark, burgundy colored leaves are Forest Pansy Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’), Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’), Caribbean Copper Plant (Euphorbia cotinifolia) and Prunus cerasifera ‘Krauter Vesuvius’. Forest Pansy likes some shade in hotter climates and needs moderate water. It has pink blossoms in spring and orange to red fall colored leaves.
 
 
Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'
 
The Smoke Tree is a deciduous shrub or tree that likes full sun and moderate water. They are happy in stressful conditions with poor or rocky soil that drains well. Their ‘puffs of smoke’ (flowers) appear in the summer and resemble a bewitching mist among the dark leaves and branches of the tree.

 

Cotinus coggygria - Smoke Tree

The Caribbean Copper Plant is deciduous in zone 23 and evergreen in zone 24. This can grow as a large shrub or small tree and looks similar to the Smoke Tree. Flower clusters have small white bracts; it likes full sun, heat and good drainage.
 
 
Euphorbia cotinifolia - Caribbean Copper Plant
 
So now you know the spooky, kooky, and ooky plants that can look great in your landscape year-round but if you want to add a little more ghoulishness to your creation, add some pumpkins, spider webs or maybe even a few bats and spiders to create a real ghoulish landscape. (We opted for just some pumpkins.)
 
 
Plants used in this setting: Back - Pennisetum s. 'Rubrum', Canna 'Dark Night,' Aloe vaombe
Middle - Nandina d. 'Firepower,' Phormium 'Apricot Queen', Euphorbia cotinus, Pennisetum s. 'Fireworks', Coleus hybrids
Foreground - Aeonium 'Zwartkop', Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, Red-leafed Bedding Begonias

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