Hardy-orangeBotanical name: Pancirus...

PLANT NOTEBOOK

November 23, 1991|By Amalie Adler Ascher

Hardy-orange

Botanical name: Pancirus trifoliata

Pronunciation: pon-SY-rus

Family: Rutaceae (Rue family)

Origin: Central and north China

Class: Shrub

Display period: Year-round

Height: 8 to 20 feet

Environment: Sun

For meanness, the hardy-orange is just about in a class by itself. Its stout, daggerlike thorns, some 4 inches long, are so formidable they're spoken of as "almost lethal to the touch." Pruning is no picnic, as you might imagine. Nor is a hedge of it likely to be invaded by intruders.

The thorns, though, are the very things that sell the hardy-orange (or trifoliate orange, as the shrub is otherwise called) as an ornamental. Their prominence, so much a part of the branches that they appear to be extensions of them -- and like them remaining a robust green the year around -- lend the shrub a special character.

Not to be overlooked either are the white flowers it bears in spring and the small, bitter oranges -- fit only for flavoring mixed drinks or processing into marmalade -- it produces in the fall.

In Eleanor Weller's Monkton garden, the hardy-orange reaches the height of conspicious display. Ms. Weller, an avid gardener, is co-author with Mac Griswold of the fascinating and beautifully produced "The Golden Age of American Gardens," published this month by Harry N. Abrams Inc. at $67.50 and increasing to $75 Jan. 1.

Ms. Weller took eight plants, which she obtained as seedlings, and trained them as ball-topped topiaries on naked stems. They form an allee for a grassy path that leads through the garden. Keeping a hardy-orange in bounds, by the way, takes much of the sting out of pruning it.

The shrub is a fast grower, she says. Her plants attained the 40-inch height she set as their limit in just two to three years. Ms. Weller began shaping them when they were a year old. She removed all but the strongest stem to form the trunk, cleaning it bare of other growth. She let the head develop to 10 to 12 inches wide before rounding it off with a clippers. Until trunks are 2 inches thick and can stand on their own, they'll need staking.

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