Ecological Restoration Specialists

Plant of the Month

EDITEDmock orange plant profile image

PLANT-OF-THE-MONTH 

Mock Orange – Philadelphus lewisii

 

Mock orange grows wild from Southern British Columbia to Northern California and east to Montana, but is possibly better known for its use in landscaping. This hardy shrub produces blooms with an amazing sweet, citrusy scent that attracts pollinators of all kinds. Hummingbirds, certain kinds of butterflies and especially bees flock to this plant in late spring. Birds that eat the seeds include quail, juncos, thrushes, chickadees, grosbeak and finches. Deer and elk are known to browse the foliage but it is a more important food source for mule deer. The dense foliage provides shade for large animals such as deer and elk, as well as for smaller mammals and birds. Humans appreciate how easy it is to grow. Mock orange takes well to pruning, well-suited for summer hedges or as a component of a hedgerow.

Mock orange is a deciduous shrub growing up to 10ft tall and nearly as wide. It has opposite, ovate leaves with 3 prominent veins and pointed tips. The young leaves have edges with widely spaced, blunt teeth that disappear as they age. The brown bark becomes somewhat flaky with age. The white flowers have 4 petals and numerous stamens, creating a contrasting yellow center. The flowers appear in clusters at the ends of the lateral branches between May-July. The sepals persist for quite some time after the petals have fallen off creating an additional element of visual interest. The seeds develop inside a woody, 4-chambered capsule about 1cm long in fall.

Mock orange is a member of the Hydrangaceae family, which, you guessed it, makes them related to hydrangeas. Mock orange has similar pruning needs as hydrangeas, such as performing rejuvenation cuttings every few years to keep it full and healthy in a garden. While it prefers sunny locations, this shrub will also do well in partial shade. This plant grows in a variety of habitats, from open forests and forest edges to rocky bluffs and disturbed sites. Mock orange tolerates a range of soils, from rich loam to rocky or gravelly loam, in moderately moist to dry conditions. It occurs from sea level to 8000ft elevation. Mock orange is fire-resistant and sprouts from the root crown after the top has been killed off. Common associates include serviceberry, red-osier dogwood, Oregon white oak, and baldhip roses. Mock orange is used in revegetation projects due to its adaptability, drought tolerance and habitat value. Mock orange can be used to help unstable rocky slopes or in direr sites along riparian zones. Gardeners usually find a home for this shrub along walkways, driveways and doorways where the fragrance can be enjoyed. It can also be used as a specimen planting, in decorative borders, or any low maintenance landscapes.