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What is that Plant?!

One of the most common questions that we’re asked at the nursery is: “What is that plant?!” Once spring arrives, dozens of previously unnoticed plants begin to flower. These plants that once faded into the background suddenly stick out like sore thumbs. Naturally, our customers want to know what they are.

Since we’ve had such a terrific blooming season so far this spring, we thought that this might be a good time to show you some of the pictures we’ve taken. We’ve also included a little information to go along with each picture. Now you’ll be prepared the next time one of your friends asks: “What is that plant?!”

Ornamental Pear

These trees have bright white flowers and are known for their uniformity. The two varieties you’re most likely to see are: Bradford and Cleveland Select. Bradford has a very nice round shape and in previous years was widely plant. Unfortunately, Bradford has notoriously weak branches which are susceptible to breakage. Cleveland Select is more upright and sturdy and is a great alternative to Bradford. Both varieties have dark green, glossy foliage and the potential for spectacular fall color.

PJM Rhododendron

The floral effect of rhododendrons is amazing. Unfortunately, most rhododendrons (as well as azaleas) do not perform well in the Midwest. So if you live in Iowa and happen to see a beautiful, healthy rhododendron in bloom, it’s probably a PJM rhododendron. This variety has magnificent, lavender-purple flowers and can tolerate Iowa’s dry winters. If you have a protected shady area, a PJM rhododendron might just be the plant for you.


Redbuds are small trees with extravagant personalities. On one hand, they have delicate, pink flowers and heart-shaped leaves. On the other hand, they have wild, coarse-textured branches. Overall, redbuds are great small trees for shady areas. Depending on where you live, you may need to plant them out of the wind because of hardiness issues.

Red Maple

We bet you weren’t expecting a maple tree on our list of spring bloomers. But red maples have a way providing pleasant surprises. Everyone is familiar with the brilliant red fall color that these trees exhibit at the end of the season. However, they also produce very pretty red flowers at the beginning of the year. This is particularly evident when they have an evergreen backdrop.

Japanese Flowering Quince

The Japanese Flowering Quince is somewhat of an “old-fashioned” plant. It’s flowers are show-stopping red. However, it’s  scraggly growth habit makes it less than desirable while it’s not in bloom. Most people don’t consider the beautiful flowers to be worth the shagginess of the plant.


Most gardeners use vinca as a groundcover in shady areas. It’s dark green, glossy foliage provides great textural contrast for ferns or hostas. However, it flowers best when placed in full sun. The light blue, star-shaped flowers are something that you definitely don’t want to overlook.

Star Magnolia

Magnolias hearken the spring like no other plant. The bright pink and white, tulip-shaped flowers of saucer magnolias are a welcome sight to every gardener. But there is another magnolia that you may not be as familiar with. Star magnolias are much small than saucer magnolias. And as their name suggests, their flowers are star-shaped and white. Additionally, the flowers give off a pleasantly sweet aroma.