Garrya elliptica (Silktassel)
Garrya elliptica, commonly called silktassel or coast tassel bush, is prized for its catkins—long, pendent flowers—that cascade from branch tips among dense, green leaves in winter when little else is in bloom. This substantial, long-lived, shrub is also attractive when not in flower.
Very Large Shrub
Although Garrya is not suitable for planting in a small garden, it is an excellent choice for properties with ample space.
- Garrya elliptica has a moderate rate of growth 10-20 ft. high and wide. Thick, elliptical or oval, leathery leaves, 1½-3 in. long and 1½ in. wide, are dark green on top with grey, woolly, hair-like fuzziness on the bottom. Margins are wavy and may tend to curl.
- Use it as a screen or a sturdy informal hedge. It is generally deer resistant.
- The shrub is grown mainly for its striking female and male flowers—long, dangling, creamy to greenish yellow, pendent catkins—that appear on separate plants December through February.
- Male catkins are longer, 4-12 in. and more dramatic; female catkins are only 2-3½ inches long. Both sexes must be present for the female plant to bear its purple, grape-like clusters of round berries.
- The two most popular cultivars are both male, ‘James Roof’ and ‘Evie.’ ‘Evie’ has a denser look than ‘James Roof.’ Female plants are not as widely available in nurseries.
- Fruits are densely hairy but become velvety smooth with age and are attractive to birds.
This evergreen shrub is native to the Coast Ranges from southern Oregon to Santa Barbara County. In the northernmost part of its native range in the Coastal Mountains, Garrya elliptica grows in rather barren soil on the seaward side of redwoods.
- In Sonoma County, it grows best from Santa Rosa west to the ocean where it can tolerate full sun as well as fog, wind and rain, and is not threatened by large changes in temperature.
- Farther inland, it needs partial shade and moderate irrigation but may suffer if the temperature does exceed 100 degrees F. In a protected spot, garrya is cold-hardy to 12 degrees F.
- Planting on mounds above grade and watering thoroughly every week or two until established is recommended. Mature plants benefit from monthly watering.
- Garrya elliptica, like many California natives, is drought tolerant and must have good drainage, especially when planted in heavy clay soil.
- It isn’t uncommon for plants to suffer fatal damage in winters with excessively heavy rains, especially when planted in heavy soil. Although mound-planting is helpful, the extensive root system reaches out, at least as far as the shrub’s width.
After shrubs are well-established, decisions must be made regarding pruning. None is needed for shrubs to reach maturity when they assume a generally rounded shape.
- Any necessary pruning to remove awkward branching should be done immediately after flowering.
- Garrya, however, does not respond favorably to remedial pruning that promotes further unwanted branching, creating larger, possibly awkward, size and denser growth.
- Garrya may be trained to tree form, but basal shoots will appear regularly and must be consistently removed along with unwanted lower branching.