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Swamp Cyrilla: A Striking Native Shrub

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Cyrilla racemiflora JC Raulston Arboretum ©

Cyrilla racemiflora
JC Raulston Arboretum ©

Cyrilla racemiflora, also known as swamp cyrilla, leatherwood or titi, is a lesser known but potentially useful native shrub or tree that grows in moist but well-drained soils that are high in organic matter and acidic. Growing in hardiness zones 6 through 11, its habit ranges from deciduous to semi-evergreen
to evergreen in the southern part of its U.S. territory. Reports indicate that it is deciduous or semi-evergreen in North Carolina and grows as a native primarily in the eastern part of the state.

The form of C. racemiflora somewhat resembles that of the wax myrtle, with twisted branches. And like the wax myrtle, it often forms multiple trunks. Taller specimens are found, but a typical height and width is 10 to 15 feet. While a single tree can be grown alone in a planted landscape, this shrub often spreads in moist soiled
natural areas, creating colonies. It has been reported to come back from the roots for some time after being cut. Its strong structure and glossy green leaves make it stand out in a landscape.

C. racemiflora flowers during the summer, putting out fragrant white-flowered racemes that are 3 to 6 inches long and give the appearance of downward pointed fingers. One-half inch long seed capsules form after flowering and remain on the plant into winter. Older leaves acquire fall coloration of yellow, orange and maroon. Swamp cyrilla is suited to full sun or partial shade.

Cyrilla racemiflora JC Raulston Arboretum ©

Cyrilla racemiflora
JC Raulston Arboretum ©

This plant is not commonly found in nurseries, but it is easily propagated. Gardeners who have access to seeds can plant them directly into the ground. Cuttings taken in August and treated with the hormone IBA have rooted with great success.

The JC Raulston Arboretum has one swamp cyrilla specimen in the courtyard of the Ruby McSwain Education Center and two, including a weeping cultivar called ‘Graniteville’, in the beds along the fence in the northeast section. ‘Graniteville’, from Woodlanders Nursery in South Carolina, takes a more spreading form than wild plants and reaches only about 3 feet in height.

Mary H. Ferguson