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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.



Quercus macrocarpa Bur Oak

Quercus macrocarpa , Bur Oak, is the 2015 GCA Plant of the Year.  This majestic oak is found in USDA zones 4 to 8. It commonly reaches 200 to 300 years of age and often is 100 feet tall and wide. The fiddle-shaped, shiny green leaves are 8 to 10 inches in length and the acorn is the largest of all native oaks. The Bur oak is both pollution and drought tolerant. It provides food and shelter for pollinators, birds, and animals. It is an anchor for all ecosystems. Nominated by Nancy Linz, Garden Club of Cincinnati, Zone X.  Photo Credit: Blakely Linz.

Honorable Mention

Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn' Manzanita 'Howard McMinn'

Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’ was awarded Honorable Mention. This manzanita cultivar is a California native shrub that reaches 7 to 10 feet. Easily identified by its reddish bark that peels to a smooth surface, ‘Howard McMinn’ is environmentally adaptable. It tolerates average soil conditions and does not require heavy summer watering. Its mounding evergreen foliage has showy clusters of small white flowers tinged in pink during the spring. Its berries in the fall provide food for birds. Hardy in USDA zones 7b to 10. Nominated by Joan Andrews and Janet Riley, Orinda Garden Club, Zone XII.



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.

Special Recognition

Iris douglasiana, 'Canyon Snow' Douglas Iris

This native iris blooms in the spring and is pure white with yellow markings on the falls. Can grow in sun to partial shade with little to moderate water. It is deer resistant and is hardy in USDA Zones 7 - 9. Nominated by Jessie Schilling, Woodside-Atherton Garden Club, Zone XII.



Ulmus Americana, 'Princeton' Princeton Elm

Discovered at the Princeton Nursery and tested for over 30 years, the Princeton Elm has proven to be extremely resistant to Dutch Elm disease. It is a fast growing and tough, making it an ideal street tree as well as a specimen shade tree. Grows 50’H x 50’W. Hardy from USDA Zones 3 to 9. Nominated by The Garden Club of Chevy Chase, Zone VI.

Honorable Mention

Itea virginica, 'Henry's Garnet' Virginia Sweetspire

This cultivar is a deciduous shrub that has a fragrant small flower that falls in draping racemes. Its oval, dark green leaves turn a beautiful red in the autumn. Grows 3 to 4 feet tall in full sun to partial shade. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 - 9. Nominated by The Carolina Foothills Garden Club, Zone VIII and The River Oaks Garden Club, Zone IX.



Cladastrus kentukea (syn. Cladrastis lutea) American Yellowwood

American Yellowwood is a choice small shade tree with panicles of white, fragrant flowers in late spring that resemble wisteria flowers. Blooms heavily every 2 to 3 years and its leaves are a showy yellow to gold color in the fall. It grows to 40’H x 30’W. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 9. Nominated by Michael Berkley, Growild, Inc., Fairview, TN Endorsed by: The GC of Nashville, Zone IX.

Honorable Mention

Aster laevis, 'Bluebird' Smooth Aster, 'Bluebird'

This cultivar has lovely blue flowers with bright yellow centers and is a profuse bloomer in September-October. Easily grown in well-drained soil and reaches 3 feet tall. Attractive to butterflies and insects, it thrives in full sun. Hardy in USDA Zones 4-8. Introduced by Mt. Cuba Center. Nominated by Kathy Kristol, Garden Club of Wilmington, Zone V.

Cornus florida, 'Appalachian Spring' Flowering Dogwood

Noted for its resistance to diseases that affect dogwoods, ‘Appalachian Spring’ is vigorous and quick growing. It reaches 20 feet tall and its white flowers bloom in the spring. The green foliage turns an intense red in the autumn. It is hardy in USDA Zones 5 – 9. Introduced into cultivation by The University of Tennessee. Nominated by Mary Nell Farmer, Knoxville Garden Club, Zone IX.

Special Recognition

Heteromeles arbutifolia Toyon or California Holly

A drought tolerant native, this holly can grow 6 - 10 feet tall. It's summer white flowers attract butterflies and its showy red winter berries feed the birds in the winter. Hardy in USDA Zones: 8 - 10. Nominated by Fran Neumann & Cathy Tosetti, Diggers Garden Club, Zone XII.



Thuja plicata Western Arborvitae

Western Arborvitae is an extremely handsome conifer that is tolerant of a wide range of conditions and soil pH. This giant red cedar prefers cool and moist areas and grows well from coast to coast. It can be used as a single specimen or in groups for screening and windbreaks. It stands up to snow, salt and wind. Grows to 80’H x 30’W. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8. Nominated by: Katie Heins, Stony Brook GC, Zone IV.

Honorable Mention

Itea virginica Virginia Sweetspire

As a deciduous shrub that grows up to 8 feet tall, the Virginia Sweetspire is noted for its white flowers in the spring and red foliage in the fall. It is semi-evergreen and can grow in moist to sandy loam. Performs best in full sun. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 - 9. Nominated by Pedrick Lowrey, Carolina Foothills Garden Club, Zone VIII and Bitsey Hail, River Oaks Garden Club, Zone IX.

Chionanthus virginicus Fringetree

The Fringetree is noted for its slightly fragrant fringe-like white spring blooms. It grows 12 - 20 feet tall in rich moist woodland soils. The female flowers produce an olive-like fruit that when ripened is a good food source for birds and wildlife. Hardy in USDA Zones: 3 - 9. Nominated by Kenny Powell, Little Garden Club of Birmingham, Zone VIII.

Special Recognition

Franklinia alatamaha Franklin Tree

The Franklin tree is noteworthy for its interesting history and rediscovery by John Bartram. Fragrant white camellia-like flowers bloom from late summer to early autumn. It can grow 10 to 20 feet high and prefers well-drained soils in full sun. Hardy in USDA Zones 5-8. Nominated by Garden Club of America, Philadelphia Committee, Zone V and Historic Bartram's Garden.



Acer pensylvanicum Striped Maple or Moosewood Maple

Known also as Snakebark Maple, this small under story tree is graceful and broadly upright. It grows in well-drained, acidic forest soil. The three lobed leaves emerge pink in the spring, become dark green in the summer, followed by bright yellow in the fall. It has a distinctive green and white striped bark. Grows to 40’H x 30’W. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 7.Nominated by Joanne Lenden, Fort Orange Garden Club, Zone III and Betsy Whitman, Garden Club of Englewood & Essex County, Adirondack Garden Club, Zone III and Bill Pollard, Rocky Dale Gardens, Bristol, VT.

Honorable Mention

Ilex verticillata 'Sparkleberry' Winterberry

A large multi-stemmed deciduous holly with brilliant red berries, winterberry often lasting through the winter. It is best planted in full sun and is tolerant of most soils including wet sites. Hardy in USDA Zones 3-9. Nominated by Joanne Lenden and Audrey Hawkins, Ft. Orange Garden Club, Zone III.

Viburnum bracteatum 'Emerald Lustre'

‘Emerald Lustre’ viburnum is a hardy, deciduous shrub with lustrous dark green foliage, profuse white flowers and producing blue black fruit that attract birds. It requires well-drained soils though it is drought tolerant. Plant in full sun to partial shade. Hardy in USDA Zones 5a-8b. Nominated by Lili Outzs, Junior Ladies Garden Club, Zone VIII.



Taxodium distichum Common Bald Cypress

Bald Cypress is a deciduous conifer that is columnar and native to the South. In the early spring its soft feathery needles are bright green. In the fall its burnished copper foliage becomes a dominant feature in the landscape. Taxodium are found in swampy, wet soil conditions or along river margins. Grows to 130’H x 28’W. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 11. Nominated by: LeRoy Simpkins, Augusta, GA, Endorsed by: Sand Hills Garden Club, Zone VIII.


Aesculus parviflora Bottlebrush Buckeye

Bottlebrush Buckeye is an outstanding deciduous shrub that is easily grown in full to partial shade. It is a showy summer bloomer with white upright panicles up to 12" long with red anthers and pinkish filaments. In the fall it's foliage turns a bright yellow. This shrub can grow up to 12 feet tall. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8. Nominated by Don Shadow, Winchester, TN. Endorsed by: Cherokee Garden Club, Zone VIII.

Honorable Mention

Hibiscus 'Moy Grande' Texas Giant Hibiscus

‘Moy Grande’ may be the largest flowered hibiscus on earth! Giant pink blossoms can be as large as dinner plates. It blooms summer till early fall and tolerates alkaline soils. Hardy in USDA Zones 5-9. Nominated by Ying Doon Moy, San Antonio Botanic Garden, San Antonio, TX. Endorsed by Alamo Heights-Terrell Hills Garden Club, Zone IX.

Lobelia cardinalis Cardinal Flower

This perennial adapts well to garden conditions, especially in moist areas beside ponds or  water features. It forms an upright mound of green foliage, bearing taller spikes of scarlet-red flowers in mid to late summer, which attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Hardy in USDA Zones 3-9. Nominated by Mrs. John Kauffman, Garden Club of Darien, Zone II. 




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.