Trees with Purple Leaves

eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy')

eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’)

I doubt snow has ever fallen in the Valley in March, but there is an annual occurrence this time of year that will fool you into thinking that such a meteorological event has, in fact, taken place.
I refer to the flurry of petals from purple leaf plum trees, visible as they drift slowly through the air and then accumulate on the lawn or on the leaves of ornamental plants below.
Purple leaf plums (Prunus cerasifera) are small- to medium-sized trees, depending on variety, grown primarily for their burgundy, bronze, copper or purple foliage. They can tolerate adverse soil conditions better than many other trees. Just make sure the soil they are growing in dries out thoroughly every now and then and that the bark at the base of their trunks is kept dry.
I once saw a glorious 30-foot Prunus cerasifera “Atropurpurea” fall over. A postmortem investigation revealed that the plum tree had been watered daily, with the spray of two sprinklers directed at the base of the tree, leading to crown rot. Please note: In tree anatomy, the crown is the base of the trunk, where trunk meets soil. If this area is not kept dry, there is a danger of the bark rotting at the soil line as a result of fungus infestation. This will obviously weaken the tree, causing gradual death as individual branches die, leading to the tree’s ultimate death when it falls over.
There are three other purple-leaf trees worthy of consideration for Valley gardens. One is the infrequently seen purple beech (Fagus sylvatica “Atropunica”). A mainstay of landscapes in the eastern United States, beech trees will require some shade in the Valley to grow well. A bonus of beech trees is their uncannily smooth, light gray bark.
Another famous purple-leafed tree is the so-called red Japanese maple (Acer palmatum varieties). No other tree is more suitable for container growing, as it ever so slowly reaches a mature height of only 12 feet. There are many varieties of purple- or crimson-leafed Japanese maples, several of which have highly decorative, lacy leaves. Their foliage must not receive any direct sun or it will burn.
The last species on this list of purple-leaf trees is probably one of the most captivating trees of any description. I am talking about “Forest Pansy,” a relatively recently introduced variety of Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis). Forest Pansy has heart-shaped leaves that are opening now and will turn colors before dropping in the fall.
All of the trees mentioned here are deciduous, which makes their gift of fresh new purple foliage each spring a celebratory event.
There are a number of shrubs, perennials and annuals with leaves in the purple-bronze-crimson spectrum that should also be mentioned here. The red-leaf Japanese barberry (Berberis Thunbergii “Atropurpurea”) is a drought-tolerant selection that makes an excellent 4- to 6-foot hedge. Several purplish-crimson-leafed azalea varieties are available, as are bronze-leafed cannas with orange flowers. The classic, largest-growing New Zealand flax varieties have bronze foliage as does one of the most popular shrubs for foundation plantings – the so-called “Bronze Beauty” (a hybrid between bronze loquat and Rhaphiolepis). Then there are bronze-leafed begonias and, for the vegetable garden, bronze-leafed lettuce. There is even a vining sweet potato vine with purple foliage.
A plant for both outdoors and indoors is the inch plant or purple heart (Setrcreasea purpurea), with boat-shaped violet leaves and pink flowers. The waffle plant (Hemigraphis colorata), with crinkly purple leaves, serves admirably as an aquarium or pond plant, as well as a more conventional indoor plant selection.
TIP OF THE WEEK: For a provocative contrast, juxtapose gold-leafed or gold-and-green variegated plants next to those with purple foliage. Gold-leafed plants to consider here would include pink breath of heaven (Coleonema pulchrum “Sunset Gold”), Euonymous japonica “Aureo-Marginata,” Bougainvillea “Raspberry Ice,” and, for shady exposures, gold dust plant (Aucuba japonica “Variegata.”)

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