Leucothoe blooms. Photo: M. Talabac, UME

Updated: July 12, 2022

About leucothoe

Leucothoe fontanesiana (highland doghobble) or Leucothoe axillaris (coastal doghobble)
Evergreen flowering shrub
Heath family (Ericaceae)

Maryland distribution: Although the related fetterbush (Leucothoe racemosa / Eubotrys racemosa) occurs naturally in Maryland in swamps, moist woods, and thickets primarily on the coastal plain, neither doghobble species is native in the state. There are isolated records of both species occurring non-invasively in central Maryland natural areas.
Size: 2 to 4 feet high by 3 to 6 feet wide
Flowers: draping clusters of fragrant, small, ivory-white urn-shaped blooms; their scent is unusual and not conventionally floral or sweet
Fall color: may turn bronzy to purplish-red in winter or will remain green; evergreen
Sun: part sun to shade, ideally with dappled light during midafternoon
Soil: moist, well-drained, acidic

Garden uses: Leucothoe is valuable as a low-growing evergreen that prefers shade and is tolerant of somewhat damp soils. The loose, arching growth habit is well-suited for naturalized plantings and can be used to hide the leggy bases of taller shrubs. Any older stems with tired-looking foliage are easily trimmed back to refresh the plant's appearance; prune as desired in spring, after blooming, so new growth will quickly replace what was removed. These shrubs can sucker when thriving, but are relatively restrained in their spread. Deer usually avoid browsing leucothoe.

Cultivar notes:

  • the appearance of most cultivars is roughly the same in terms of mature size, blooms, and growth habit; their main differences are the color of foliage (regarding new growth or mature growth) during spring or summer
  • Leucothoe axillaris 'Margie Jenkins' is reportedly more resistant to foliar disease than other varieties

Wildlife: flowers provide pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies

Growth habit of leucothoe.
Typical wider-than-tall growth habit with arching stems. Photo: M.Talabac, UME
Growth habit of leucothoe in a mixed planting.
In this autumn garden scene, leucothoe is covering the bare base of a taller summersweet shrub. Photo: M.Talabac, UME
Winter foliage color of leucothoe.
Leucothoe may blush plum-red for the winter. Photo: M. Talabac, UME

Additional resource

Publications for Gardeners | Maryland Native Plant Society

Compiled by: Ria Malloy, Horticulturist & Program Coordinator, Home & Garden Information Center. 2022

Still have a question? Contact us at Ask Extension.