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Plant of the Year

The GCA Plant of the Year: Montine McDaniel Freeman Horticulture Award 

The Horticulture Committee is pleased to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Freeman Horticulture Medal. The Medal honors Montine McDaniel Freeman, a member of New Orleans Town Gardeners. It was given in her memory by her son and daughter-in-law, Louis and Judy Freeman. The award is given to an outstanding native plant which is underutilized but possesses superior ornamental and ecological attributes. The goal is to encourage the propagation and planting of these plants in our gardens and the landscape.

The Montine McDaniel Freeman Horticulture Medal is awarded annually to acknowledge the cultivation and use of native plants: trees, shrubs, ground covers, vines,  and perennials that are little known but are deemed worthy to be preserved, propagated, promoted, and planted.

The GCA Plant of the Year: 1995 to 2014

Previous Winners

Enlarge the photos of winning entries to see more detail: Click on the image and it will pop out. Click outside the full-size image to return to the list of winners.



Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed

This Native plant merits recognition for its combined beauty, hardiness, and environmental value. Its brilliant clusters of fiery orange flowers are fragrant, long lived, and will reseed itself. It requires will drained soil and full sun. Because of its long tap root, it is difficult to move once established. Its nectar attract many benefical pollinators. Its greatest value is serving as the larval host plant to the endangered Monarch butterfly that migrates from Mexico to Canada each year. Root hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9. Nominated by Doris Heard, Garden Club of Houston, Zone 9.

The Butterfly Weed, nominated by a member of The Garden Club of Houston, merits recognition for its combined beauty, hardiness, and environmental value. Its brilliant clusters of fiery orange flowers are fragrant, long lived, and produce a pod that reseeds. Root hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9, it is drought tolerant and requires well drained soil. Its nectar attracts a wide variety of pollinators, such as butterflies, beneficial insects and birds. Its greatest value is serving as the larval host plant to the endangered Monarch butterfly that migrates from Mexico to Canada every year. If gardeners increase the production and planting of milkweeds, such as the Asclepias tuberosa, there would beneficial affect on the Monarch butterfly, insects and birds that depend on its nectar. Promoting the Butterfly Weed makes a statement regarding the ethos of our mission of gardening and protecting our environment.

Honorable Mention

Polemonium reptans 'Stairway to Heaven'

This native variety is vigorous and heat-tolerant, forming low mounds of medium-green ferny leaves that are broad, bold, and cream colored. The delicate leaf will take on a pink tinge in direct sun or cool weather so the plant is showy in the garden in the autumn. Clusters of lightly fragrant, blue -lavender bell-shaped flowers rise above the foliage in mid to late spring and attracting insects and butterflies. It requires average to moist soil conditions. Hardy in USDA Zones 3-8. Nominated by Lynn Steiner, St Paul Garden Club, Zone XI.

Polemonium reptans is notable because it is thought to be the best variegated Jacob's Ladder ever introduced. Nominated by a member of St Paul Garden Club, this native variety is vigorous and heat-tolerant. It forms low mounds of medium-green ferny leaves that are broad, bold, and cream colored. The delicate leaf will take on a pink tinge in direct sun or cool weather so the plant is showy in the garden in the autumn. Clusters of lightly fragrant, blue -lavender bell-shaped flowers rise above the foliage in mid to late spring and attracting insects and butterflies. The new leaves that appear all season keep this variety attractive in the garden from spring to late fall. It requires average to moist soil conditions and is root hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 8. This plant is ideal for edging a shady path or growing in a pot.

Special Recognition

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium var. angustus 'Raydon's Favorite'

This is a stunning aster with yellow-centered, vivid blue-purple flowers. It makes a remarkable statement in the landscape from late spring to mid fall emitting a minty scented perfume. This cultivar received top ranking from the Chicago Botanic Garden for disease and pest resistance, winter hardiness, cultural adaptability and flower production. 'Raydon's Favorite' requires minimal maintenance and attracts desirable bees, beneficial insects, and birds. The plant prefers sun to partial shade and dry soil. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9. Nominated by Caroline Borgman, Glenview Garden Club, Zone VII.

'Raydon's Favorite', nominated by a member of the Glenview Garden Club, is a stunning aster with yellow-centered, vivid blue-purple flowers. It makes a remarkable statement in the landscape from late spring to mid fall and emits a minty scented perfume. This cultivar received top ranking from the Chicago Botanic Garden for disease and pest resistance, winter hardiness, cultural adaptability and flower production. 'Raydon's Favorite' requires minimal maintenance and attracts desirable bees, beneficial insects, and birds. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9, the plant prefers sun to partial shade and dry soil. Named by Allen Bush after the plantsman, Raydon Alexander, of San Antonio, Texas; the cultivar is believed to be originally from Lookout Mountain, TN.



Cercis canadensis Eastern Redbud, Judas Tree

A small deciduous tree that is often useful for small properties, urban situations, and at the edge of woodlands. Blooms for two weeks in the spring with pink blossoms followed by heart shaped leaves that turn a gentle yellow in the fall. It grows 30’H x 30’W in most soils and likes full sun to partial shade. Avoid wet and poorly drained soils. This tree does not transplant well. Cultivars include “Forest Pansy” and “Appalacia,”. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9. Nominated by Kita Reese, Garden Club of Mt. Desert, Zone I.

Honorable Mention

Nyssa sylvatica Black tupelo, Black gum, Sourgum

This stately tree grows on rocky woodland slopes. Its fruit and berries attract beneficial insects and birds. In the autumn the leaves turn spectacular colors. Hardy in USDA Zone 4 to 9, it can reach 50 feet tall at maturity. Nominated by Millbrook Provisional Class, Millbrook Garden Club, Zone III.

Special Recognition

Torreya taxifolia, Stinking cedar, Gopherwood

An upright evergreen tree that can grow to 40 feet. This is an endangered tree because of a fungal disease,one of the first federally listed endangered plant species in the United States in 1984; the IUCN lists the species as critical. Seldom found in the wild and grows on bluffs and in ravines. Its cones and leaves have a strong resinous odor when crushed, therefore, the name 'Stinking Cedar.’ Hardy in USDA Zones 6 - 9. Nominated by Vee Vee Scott, Garden Club of Nashville, Zone IX.



Muhlenbergia capillaris, Pink Muhly

The exceptional fine textured foliage and dark pink blooms of this grass provide year round interest for this perennial. Seed heads float above textured foliage which stays green most of the year. It thrives in loamy soil from Massachusetts south to Florida and the Gulf Coast. It grows 1’ to 3' in full sun and provides seeds and cover for birds and other wildlife. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 10. Nominated by The Naples Botanical Garden, Brian Holley, Director, Naples, FL. Endorsed by The Garden Club of the Halifax Country, Zone VIII.

Special Recognition

Echinacea, Coneflowers

This genus has nine species that are commonly called coneflowers. It is noted for its tolerance of many environmental conditions and can be found in open wooded areas. The flowers are bright yellow or purple and attract beneficial insects and butterflies. The plant and its roots have medicinal usages. Hardy in USDA Zones 3-9. Nominated by Linda Grieve, Des Moines Founders Garden Club, Zone XI.



Abies concolor, White Fir

A columnar evergreen tree, the White Fir boasts soft bluish green needles and cylindrical cones while growing in full sun to partial shade. It prefers medium moisture and slightly acidic, well drained soil. This Fir thrives in long winters with cool summers. When grown in residential landscapes, it typically reaches 40-70’H x 20-30’W. Once established,White Fir is drought tolerant. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 8. Nominated by: Provisional members of Akron GC, Zone X.

Special Recognition

Pinus palustris, Longleaf Pine

A native to the southeastern United States, it can grow over 100 feet and can live to be over 100 years old. Growing in well drained soil, the tree is highly resistant to wildfire. Hardy in USDA Zones 7-10. Nominated by Jane Perry McFadden, Palmetto Garden Club, Zone VIII.



Spigelia marilandica, Indian Pink

An herbaceous clump-forming perennial, Pinkroot is easily grown and thrives in moist rich soil. It is drought tolerant. Its showy red flowers are trumpet shaped. Each flower has a yellow interior that flares to the top forming a five pointed star. They attract hummingbirds and prefer shade to full shade in the garden. Hardy in USDA Zone 5 to 9. Nominated by Barbara Gould, Hardy Garden Club, Zone VI. 

Honorable Mention

Sibbaldiopsis tridentata, Three-toothed Cinquefoil

The three-toothed Cinquefoil is a short, woody perennial native wildflower growing on dry, rocky areas, including mountains. The white flowers cluster on an evergreen branch. It is a good addition to a rock garden. Hardy in USDA Zones 2 - 8. Nominated by Beazie Larned, Stamford Garden Club, Zone II.



Baptisia x 'Purple Smoke' False Indigo

This hybrid cultivar is drought tolerant and grows in full sun but prefers a dry acidic soil. It is a shrubby perennial that produces in the spring smoky violet lupine-like flowers. The flowers give way to a showy bean shaped seed pod which has ornamental interest. Baptisia grows 3- 4’H x 3- 4’W and may need staking. Attractive to butterflies and has no insect or disease problems. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9. Nominated by: Lili Ouzts & Mercer Brokenbrough Davis, Junior Ladies GC, Zone VIII.

Honorable Mention

Rododendron vaseyi, Pinkshell Azalea

This deciduous shrub has large pink flowers that begin to bloom in April. It grows in moist, well-drained soil in sun to partial shade. Pink Shell can reach 8-12 feet and in the autumn its foliage will turn from bright green to orange and red. Hardy in USDA Zones 5-9. Nominated by Ellen Petersen, Millbrook Garden Club, Zone II.



Garrya elliptica, ‘James Roof’, Silk-tassel bush

Silk-tassel bush is an evergreen shrub or small tree, native to the West coast. It prefers sun near the coast and part shade inland. It is drought tolerant. Its leathery leaves are glossy on the top and hairy underneath. In December it produces beautifully, showy foot long silvery catkins. Its growth habit is 12’H x 12’W and is a tough plant that can withstand wind, pollution, and seaside conditions. Hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 11. Nominated by: Carmel-by-the-Sea GC, Zone XII. Written by Diana Fish for club submission. 

Honorable Mention

Illicium floridanum, 'Ellis', Florida Anise

Florida Anise is a broad-leaved evergreen shrub that can grow to 10 feet. It has small maroon flowers that mature from a star shaped fruit that grows in moist ravines. Can be poisonous; do use caution! Hardy in USDA Zones 8 - 10. Nominated by Susan Treadway, Garden Club of Philadelphia, Zone V.



Viburnum nudum, 'Winterthur', Smooth Witherod

'Winterthur' is a compact deciduous shrub that typically grows  6'H x 6'W in medium to wet well drained soil and in full to part shade. It is native to low woody areas, swamps, and bogs. It features an aromatic white flower followed by clusters of colorful berries that range from pink to dark purple in the fall. Their glossy green leaves turn dark red-purple and are a striking contrast to the berries. It is best to plant in groups for cross-pollination. Hardy from USDA Zones 5 to 9. Nominated by: Barbara Shea, Green Spring Valley GC, Zone VI.


Wisteria frutescens, 'American wisteria'

American Wisteria is a twining vine that is native and a welcome alternative to the invasive Asian cousins. It is the hardiest of all wisterias, the vine matures to 20’ and is tolerant of clay and sand. This plant blooms in May and June with blue to purple flowers with a mild-sweet fragrance. It is a repeat bloomer in August. Plant in full sun or part sun. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.Nominated by Anne Segrest & Lili Ouzts, Junior Ladies Garden Club, Zone VIII and Jeff Lewis, Director, State Botanical Garden of Georgia.


Betula nigra, 'Little King,' FOX VALLEY

Fox Valley is a multi-stemmed, dwarf ornamental tree with four season interest, suitable for small gardens. The orangish to brownish bark exfoliates at an early age to reveal a lighter brown inner bark. It is highly resistant to the bronze birch borer and has good resistance to leaf spot diseases. Grows 10’H x 12’W. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 9.Introduced by Chicagoland Grows, 1991. Nominated by Westy Lovejoy, Piscataqua Garden Club, Zone I. Introduced by: Chicagoland Grows, 1991.

Honorable Mention

Amelanchier canadensis ‘Glenform’ RAINBOW PILLAR PP9092

Grown as multi-stems shrubs or as trees, the Amelanchier can reach 20 feet. The early blooming white flowers turn into blueberry-like fruits which attract birds. In the fall the leaves turn a spectacular orange with red. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 - 9. Nominated by: Dedee O'Neil, Akron Garden Club, Zone X.




Scholarship Opportunities Available

The GCA now offers 27 merit based scholarships, fellowships and awards in the areas of horticulture and its related disciplines, botany, including medicinal and tropical, native bird habitat, conservation and ecological restoration, desert studies, landscape architecture, urban forestry, garden history and design, coastal wetlands, and pollinator research.

In March of this year, 86 students and scholars were awarded over $300,000 to support a variety of academic endeavors ranging from summer environmental study and field work, to graduate level research. Their study will take place in institutions across the nation and some will do field work around the world.

GCA Scholarships - supporting the best and brightest.

Plant of the Year

Nominations for the Montine McDaniel Freeman Horticulture Award will be accepted by the GCA Horticulture Committee between March 1st and Dec 1st for the following year.

Nominate a Plant - recognize a plant that is under-utilized but worthy of preservation, propagation and promotion.