June is the month for summer lilac, or chaste tree, to bloom.
Unfortunately we Southerners can’t have much success with lilacs, but the chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) provides the beautiful blue flowers that many of our transplanted Northerners miss so much. The chaste tree is in full bloom all around East Texas right now and they are beautiful.
If you have a hot, sunny spot that needs a small, flowering tree, the chaste tree is for you.
If you want the chaste tree to be a large bush, then cut it back severely every year. The foliage of the chaste tree is very aromatic and airy. Leaves are small, palmate and silvery green, like little stars. The shade cast by these trees is very airy and bright, allowing many plants to grow underneath.
Chaste trees grow 15 to 20 feet tall, but can easily be kept in a 10-foot bush by cutting back the foliage in late fall or early winter. Chaste trees will take a great deal of drought. That is probably why they are used along highway plantings.
You can find chaste trees in several colors, although purple is the original color.
I have one called “Lecompte Blue” that I love for its blue flowers. There is another called “Shoal Creek” with blue-violet blooms. “Montrose Purple” has deep violet blooms, “Abbyville Blue” has blue blooms, “Fletcher Pink” has lavender-pink blooms and “Rosea” has mauve-pink blooms.
White selections include “Alba” and “Silver Spire.” This year it seems Shoal Creek is the one most commonly found. I have noticed that when a new plant comes out, everyone gets that one and the older (sometimes better) varieties go by the wayside.
Once, the seeds of the chaste tree were used in medicine, as well as for black pepper. The tree was named “chaste” because monks used to eat the berries to keep themselves “chaste.”
Chaste trees have been grown in Texas since the 1800s. The oldest is found near Weches in the Davy Crockett National Forest.
Every yard needs a small flowering tree or two. There are several wonderful flowering trees for even a small yard, and the chaste tree is a knockout.
Dee Bishop is a Smith County Master Gardener. She writes about plants growing within the Tyler Rose Garden.