Versatile and aromatic, hoptree adapts easily to a wide variety of well-drained soil types in full sun to full shade. This attractive tall shrub or small understory tree grows 10 to 15' tall and wide with a dense, rounded form and glossy, dark green foliage that turns golden yellow in the fall. Because of these attributes, the shrub is often used as a privacy hedge. Once established, it’s fairly drought tolerant. Pruning can be done when dormant to improve the shape.
The common name comes from the use of the fruits as a substitute for hops in flavoring beer. It’s also called wafer ash because of the wafer-like shape of its fruits. The shrub is an interesting sight in winter, when the samaras—fruits with single seeds encased in papery coverings—continue to dangle on the tree. Ptelea, which means “elm tree,” reflects the similarity of the hoptree samaras to those of the elm’s. One whiff of hoptree’s musky, lemony-scented flowers, however, reveals that hoptree is in the citrus, not elm, family. The tiny, greenish-white flowers bloom in mid-spring, attracting bees, flies, and wasps for nectar and pollination. The leaves and stems of hoptree have glands that release chemical deterrents when crushed, giving it another common name, "stinking ash." Insects such as the giant swallowtail butterfly have evolved to be able to consume the plant and use these chemicals to protect themselves from predators.
Native habitats include moist woods, thickets, stream banks, prairies, and ravines. It thrives in a multitude of locations, such as under large shade trees, in rocky areas, in borders, as hedges, along patios or decks, or in deep shade.
Typically grows 10-15’ tall and wide.
Prefers partial sun (3 hours) and diffused light but will tolerate full sun and full shade.
Prefers well-drained, loamy soil but adapts readily to sandy, rocky, and clay soils. Drought tolerant once established.
¼” flowers with 4-5 petals and 4 yellow anthers give way to dry fruits with winged edges for wind dispersal.
Three oval leaflets 3-4” long are glossy dark green on top and pale underneath with slightly toothed margins. Fall color is golden to yellowish green.
Multi-stemmed trunk may be pruned to single stem. Bark is reddish brown to gray brown.
Host plant for larvae of 8 species of Lepidoptera, including giant swallowtail, the hop dog moth (pale tussock), and four specialist moths: the black-and-white-spotted hoptree ermine (all 3 mentioned thus far pictured in order), agonopterix pteleae, agonopterix costimacula, and ectoedemia pteliaeella. Deer dislike the foliage.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Some Native American tribes used parts of hoptree as a health tonic. Like ginseng, hoptree is thought to be effective as a holistic medicine for general well-being. It has also been found to have properties that improve the effectiveness of other medicines.
Hop tree flowers have been used for beer-making.
Hops, which are in the hemp family, contain a natural substance referred to as hop beta acid (HBA) that is effective against varoa mites. HBA is available in many natural products to help control varoa mites without harming honeybees.
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