Chaste tree has many virtues on display
SALISBURY — One of the most difficult yet interesting things about moving from one geographic area to another is learning about landscape shrubs, trees and flowers which are hardy and easy to care for but underused in the local landscapes. Rowan County Extension Master Gardeners are often asked “What is a Vitex? Is it known by another name? Is it a tree or a shrub?” Vitex (Vitex agnus Castus) is a winter hardy shrub which flowers in spring. Vitex is also called Chaste tree, Chasteberry, Abraham’s Balm or Monk’s Pepper. This shrub is native to Europe and Central Asia but is happy to thrive in Rowan County. Local nurseries call the useful Vitex, “Chaste tree.” To answer our question, this bush called Vitex is a Chaste tree.
A Chaste tree left on its own without benefit of pruning can grow to 10 to 20 feet tall with a broad spread of 5 to 7 feet. It has many trunks, so frequent pruning is needed to keep the Chaste tree well formed and a positive addition to a formal landscape. The berries of the Chaste tree form after flowering and have pharmacological uses. They are documented in many places on the Internet and in herb books. The best things about a Chaste tree are its winter-hardiness and its riot of blooms appearing each spring. One Master Gardener said it was the Southerners’ lilac. Bumblebees love this plant and will even spend the night on the flowers. Blooms are most often blue or lavender, but may be white or pink.
Chaste tree can be placed in an area where a single specimen is needed, surrounded by low growing late summer and fall flowering plants. It can be placed in a line along a path or driveway. If you like well groomed plants, it can be “limbed up” to make a small tree. If you have full sun, well drained soil and water when first planted, the Chaste tree will do well. It has good resistance to pests and withstands wind and draught well. In 2009, Steve Bender, The Grumpy Gardener, called the Chaste tree, “a delight.” Go to http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/trees-new/vitex_agnus_castus.html for more detailed information about the Chaste tree.
Sue Davis is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer with Cooperative Extension in Rowan County.