Florida leucothoe (Agarista populifolia), also known as Florida hobblebush or doghobble, is an attractive, evergreen shrub, native from southeastern North Carolina south to Florida and west to Mobile, Alabama. It is hardy in USDA zones 7a to 9b. This large multi-stemmed shrub has arching branches that bear clusters of fragrant, white flowers along the undersides of its branches.
Expect a mature height of 8 to 12 feet and a width of 5 to 6 feet, although over time it may grow higher than 15 feet. Florida leucothoe may also grow wider over time with the emergence of suckers or vigorous shoots that emerge from laterally growing roots some distance away from the crown or base of the original plant.
Florida leucothoe possesses a fountainlike habit with arching stems and leaves that emerge reddish-bronze, turn to light green, and then mature to glossy dark green. The alternately arranged, lance-shaped leaves look menacing, but they are actually soft to the touch.
In South Carolina, fragrant, creamy-white, bell-shaped flowers open from May to June on the undersides of last year’s branches. The flowers mature into capsules that ripen to brown before shedding their seeds.
In the wild, Florida leucothoe colonizes moist to wet areas in forests, along streambanks, and hummocks in swamps; it even tolerates seasonal flooding. In the landscape, use Florida leucothoe as an accent plant, in an evergreen screen, or moist, woodland settings. It prefers a moist shaded to a partially shaded location and acidic soil amended with organic matter. Morning sun and afternoon shade are acceptable as well. When planted in full sun, supplemental watering may be necessary to avoid drought stress.
The spreading, suckering nature of Florida leucothoe makes it useful for stream bank restoration. However, if you want to curb its outward spread, periodically remove the wayward suckers at the soil level. To encourage the production of young, flower-bearing shoots, and to maintain a handsome open habit, periodically remove a few of the oldest stems at the base of the crown. Refer to HGIC 1053, Pruning Shrubs, for information about this rejuvenating pruning technique.
Florida leucothoe has no serious insect pest or disease problems and is deer-resistant. Warning: Leaves contain andromedotoxin, a volatile resin that deters herbivory; it can be fatal when ingested.
‘Taylor’s Treasure’ PP13,347 [Leprechaun™]: This cultivar has a dense, compact growth habit, grows 3 to 5 feet high and 2 to 3 feet wide, and has leaves that are smaller and narrower than the species. Young, new leaves are glossy reddish-bronze with wavy or undulating margins. The foliage becomes nearly flat at maturity. Comparable features to the species. As the foliage expands, leaves become nearly flat. ‘Taylor’s Treasure’ originated as an open-pollinated seedling in Semmes, AL.
- Dirr, M. A. 2011. Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
- Dirr, M. A. 2009. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. 6th ed. Stipes Pub., Champaign, IL.
- North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. Agarista populifolia. 09 Dec 2019 https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/agarista-populifolia/
- Mellichamp, L. 2014. Native plants of the Southeast. Timber Press, Portland, OR.