(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.

Border forsythia by Toxicodendron

Border Forsythia
Top photo: Toxicodendron
Bottom photo: katydid620

Border forsythia by 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.

Yellowbells forsythia by Crimsontsavo
Top photo: Yellowbells forsythia
by Crimsontsavo
Bottom photo:
Weeping Forsythia by Gabrielle
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.

False forsythia by growin
Top & bottom photos:
False forsythia by growin
False forsythia by growin

The flowers have four petals and bloom on bare stems in early spring; most often the Abeliophyllum distichum blooms appear prior to those of Forsythia. This bush is endangered in the wild in its native Korea.

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 by mgarr
False forsythia photos by
mgarr (top) and irmaly (bottom)

False forsythia by irmaly

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.

Happy Gardening

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.