Friday, June 6, 2008

Vitex agnus-castus or Chaste Tree

Most of the year everyone walks by my three Chaste Trees or Vitex agnus-castus. But when Vitex is in bloom, everyone wants to know it's name; it is really spectacular. Long blue whorls of flowers form at the end of each branch. The flowers are aromatic and attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. There is a white form, but I prefer the blue.
Vitex is drought resistant and prefers well drained soil with moderate water. Vitex is classified as a large shrub or a small tree and is deciduous (looses its leaves in winter). You can grow Vitex as a single trunk or a multi-trunked tree. The leaves are palmate and are sometimes mistaken for a marijuana leaf. I purchased three Vitex four years ago in 5 gallon pots and they were already trained as multi-trunks.I planted each of the Vitex as an accent at the edge of three perennial beds. For the first two years I just let them grow whichever way they wished except I pruned off the seed heads at the end of the year. This past winter I pruned the lower branches and thinned out some of the crossing branches in the middle. Now the trees are very sculptural and during the winter its a pleasure to look through the bare branches. Vitex grows 10 to 20 feet tall and almost as wide. It forms a shapely sphere. My Vitex are about 7 feet tall now. The Vitex is the tree on the far left in the photo above.
If you plant a Vitex, do not disturb the root ball when you plant it, even if it is root bound. Vitex does not like its roots disturbed. I almost lost one when I planted it because I scored the roots. If you come to visit the gardens, see if you can tell which of my three Vitex is the one that almost succumbed.Vitex is also a medicinal plant. Clusters of seeds form after the flowers fade and these are harvested and used to make an herbal supplement to increase fertility, to help with PMS, and to improve menstrual cycles. Vitex is also called Monk's Pepper because it was used as an anti-libido by monks to help them to remain celibate.

This is a tree I highly recommend for your landscape.