(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 2, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Forsythia bushes signal spring before many other plants in the landscape awaken. Bright yellow flowers burst open along bare stems from late winter to early spring. Small flowers consisting of four petals are so thick along the bare branches that when seen from a distance, they do not appear small at all. In the fall, forsythias offer red-purple leaves for the gardener to enjoy.
The forsythia is a deciduous bush belonging to the Oleaceae (Olive) family and the genus Forsythia. A native of China, it is named for one of the founders of The Royal Horticultural Society, Mr. William Forsyth. Several varieties can be found at nurseries the world over.
Top photo: Toxicodendron
Bottom photo: katydid620
Albanian forsythia (Forsythia europaea) may reach ten feet tall and can spread to six or more feet wide. Bush has an upright growing habit. Pale yellow blooms appear in early spring and are not very showy. USDA Zones 5 to 7.
Border forsythia, showy forsythia or golden bells (Forsythia x intermedia) can grow to ten feet tall and twelve feet wide. Growth habit of Forsythia x intermedia is upright with some branches arching causing an unruly appearance. Bark is yellow-brown with prominent lenticels. Blooms brilliant yellow in March and April. Zones 4 to 8.
Bronx green-stem forsythia (Forsythia viridissima) is a compact shrub that only reaches between one and two feet tall and three feet wide forming a mound suited for planting near pathways if stray branches are kept trimmed. Bark is like that of Forsythia x intermedia and Forsythia suspensa. Blooms are pale yellow and not as showy as other Forsythias. Zones 5 to 8.
Manchurian forsythia (Forsythia mandshurica) may reach eight feet tall and can spread to six feet wide. Blooms bright yellow from late winter to early spring. According to the book, Landscape Plants for Eastern North America, by Harrison L. Flint and Jenny M. Lyverse F. mandschurica has "unusually cold-hardy flower buds." This means that the flower buds will not freeze back in the event of an unexpected freeze as quickly as those of other forsythias. Zones 4 to 8.
Top photo: Yellowbells forsythia
Weeping Forsythia by Gabrielle
Weeping forsythia (Forsythia suspensa) grows to ten feet tall and fifteen feet wide. The branches of Forsythia suspensa are weeping which give the bush a bit of a wild mounded appearance. Bark is like that of Forsythia x intermedia. Blooms bright yellow in early spring. Zones 4 to 9.
Yellowbells forsythia (Forsythia ovata) may reach six feet tall and can spread to an unruly eight feet wide but will form a mound if kept trimmed. Its bark is rough like that of other forsythias. Blooms are bright yellow to yellow-orange and put on a brilliant show in late winter and early spring. This is a very hardy bush that grows equally well in zone 4 and zone 7.
Now for a look at the lovely and sweet smelling white forsythia which is not a forsythia at all but has the appearance and growth habit of forsythia and has therefore been dubbed white forsythia by gardeners. White forsythia, Abeliophyllum distichum, is also a deciduous bush and a member of the Oleaceae family but is of the genus Abeliophyllum.
Top & bottom photos:
False forsythia by growin
White forsythia, false forsythia or Korean abelia (Abeliophyllum distichum) reaches approximately four feet tall and three feet wide. Branches of this bush will become tangled with age, however regular light pruning will clean up the bush. Buds are pink opening to sweet almond-scented white flowers in late winter and early spring. Zones 5 to 8.
There are also a pink-flowering varieties of false forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum 'Roseum' and 'Pink Star') that bloom white with pink edges. Some bushes show many fully pink petals along the stem.
Both Forsythia and Abeliophyllum distichum do best in full sun with regular watering. Bushes like well-drained fertile garden soil but will adapt to most any soil condition. Prune immediately after flowering in spring to control growth and encourage more blooms the following spring.Forsythia and false forsythia are easily propagated by softwood and hardwood cuttings as well as simple layering. False forsythia photos by
mgarr (top) and irmaly (bottom)
Larvae of the Gothic moth (Naenia typica) may defoliate young forsythia plants. Other members of the Lepidoptera order also use forsythia as food.
If you have your heart set on plants native to the U.S., try the spicebush (Lindera benzoin). It blooms yellow in early spring and grows in zones 4 to 9. Spicebush makes a nice substitute for the forsythia bushes for native plant lovers.
All photos in this article are courtesy of Dave's Garden members who have uploaded them to the PlantFiles.
Top right photo: Yellowbells forsythia by Crimsontsavo.