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Former Plant of the Year Winners

The GCA Plant of the Year: 1995 to 2014

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.


Winner: Asclepias tuberosa, Butterfly Weed

This bushy perennial is clump forming with bright orange to orange-red flowers blooming from midsummer to early autumn. Planted in full sun and well drained soil it grows 36”H x 12”W. Once established it will grow for years. A long tap root makes it difficult to grow in a pot or to transplant. Its great value is serving as the larval host plant to the endangered Monarch Butterfly, along with the nectar being attractive to a wide variety of butterflies, insects, and birds. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9. Nominated by Mount Desert Garden Club, Zone I.

Honorable Mention: Polemonium reptans, Jacob's Ladder, '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.

Special Recognition: Symphyotrichum oblongifolium var. 'Raydon's Favorite' (syn. Aromatic aster)

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.


Winner: 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 Doris Heard, Garden Club of Houston, Zone IX

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.


Winner: 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.


Winner: 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.


Winner: 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 tridentataThree-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.


Winner: 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: Rhododendron vaseyi, Pink Shell 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.


Winner: 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.


Winner: Viburnum nudum, 'Winterthur', Smooth Witherod

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: Barbara B. Shea, Green Spring Valley GC, Zone VI.


Winner: 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.


Winner: Betula nigra, 'Fox Valley' (TM), River Birch 

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, 'Glenformis' PP9092 Serviceberry Tree

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.


Winner: 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.


Winner: Cladrastis kentukea syn. C. lutea, America 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.

Honorable Mention: 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.


Winner: 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.

Honorable Mention: 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.


Winner: 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.

Honorable Mention: 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.


Winner: 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.


Winner: 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.

Honorable Mention: 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. 


Winner: Cotinus obovatus, American Smoketree

American smoke tree is a broadly conical small tree or shrub with gray to gray-brown bark. It is  showy with leaves that are pinkish bronze in the spring turning brilliant orange, red, and purple in the autumn. It tolerates alkaline soil with little moisture. Smoketree prefers full sun and grows to 30’H x 25’W. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8.Nominated by: Don Shadow, Winchester, TN. Endorsed by: Cherokee GC, Zone VIII.

Honorable Mention: Aquilegia canadensis, 'Corbett', Columbine

This airy perennial has delicate dark-green leaves and many nodding, light-yellow flowers from mid-spring to midsummer. It grows in full sun to part shade and moist but well-drained soil. Hardy in USDA Zones 3-8. Nominated by St. George's Garden Club, Zone VI. Photo from:


Winner: Carpenteria californica, 'Elizabeth' 

Elizabeth is commonly known as a bush anemone. It is an upright shrub with peeling, pale brown bark and glossy, lance-shaped to ovate-oblong dark green leaves 4"-5" long. Cup-shaped fragrant white flowers bloom from spring through the summer. It is noted as a beautiful ornamental addition to the garden and grows to 6'H x 6'W. Hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 9. Nominated by The Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation, Santa Barbara, CA. Endorsed by Garden Club of Santa Barbara, Zone XII.

Honorable Mention: Vaccinium x 'Northblue', Half-High Blueberry

Half high blueberry is a large deciduous shrub that produces a crop of delicious blueberries midseason, following a profusion of showy pink-tinged white flowers. Fall foliage is a colorful combination of yellow, bronze, orange and red. This shrub makes an excellent hedge or specimen. Hardy in USDA Zones 3-7. Nominated by Dr. James Luby, University of Minnesota.Endorsed by St. Paul Garden Club, Zone XI.


Winner: Magnolia virginiana, Sweetbay Magnolia

The notable Sweet Bay prefers moist, rich, organic soil but tolerates a heavy clay soil. Its shinny oblong leaves are silvery beneath. From early summer to early autumn, it produces almost spherical,  deeply cup-shaped, strongly lemon and rose scented flowers. Showy bright red cone-like fruit appears in the fall. Growing to 28’H x 20’W. Hardy in USDA Zones 6 to 9.Nominated by: The New England Wildflower Society & the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts. Endorsed by: Mrs. Edward N. Dane, North Shore GC, Zone I.

Honorable Mention: Asimina triloba, Pawpaw

Pawpaw is a deciduous shrub or small tree with obovate, mid-green leaves to 12” long that turn yellow in autumn. Cup shaped flowers borne singly or in small clusters occur in late spring, producing an edible sweet fruit later in the season. Hardy in USDA Zones 5-9. Nominated by Christopher Daeger, Rowe Arboretum, Cincinnati, OH. Endorsed by: Garden Club of Cincinnati, Zone X.

Honorable Mention: Rhododendron 'Northern Hi-Lights', Azalea

‘Northern Hi-Lights’ is a broad rounded, deciduous azalea with medium sized mid-green oblong to elliptic leaves, in mid season it bears dense trusses of tubular yellow-white blooms with a sweet scent. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 - 7. Nominated by: Dr. Harold Pellett, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Twin Cities Campus. Endorsed by: St. Paul Garden Club, Zone XI.


Winner: Rhododendron prunifolium, Plumleaf Azalea
Plumleaf azalea is a native, hairless evergreen azalea with elliptic, mid-green leaves that grows in the shade in acidic soil. As a late bloomer, its vivid funnel-shaped orange to orange-red blossoms will flower in a shade garden in the late summer. It grows to 8'H x 6'W. Hardy from USDA Zones 6 to 9.Nominated by: Dr. William E. Barrick, Callaway Gardens Pine Mountain, GA. Endorsed by: Mrs. Bayard M. Tynes, Red Mountain GC, Zone VIII.

Honorable Mention: Ceanothus 'Blue Cascade', Wild Lilac

‘Blue Cascade’ Wild Lilac, a cultivar, is a vigorous evergreen shrub that does well on the seacoast as well as interior. Medium blue flowers occur in clusters 2-3” long. Hardy in USDA Zones 8-10. Nominated by: Bart O'Brien, Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Claremont, CA. Endorsed by: Diggers Garden Club, Zone XII.

Honorable Mention: Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake', Oakleaf hydrangea

Snowflake’ Oakleaf hydrangea, a cultivar, has large flower- heads of intricate double blossoms layered on top of one another. It is as notable for its distinct, deeply lobed leaves as for its reliably showy, creamy blooms. The foliage produces outstanding fall color, and the flowers take on purplish-pink hues as they dry. Hardy in USDA Zones 5-9. Nominated by Mrs. John N. Wrinkle, Little Garden Club of Birmingham, Zone VIII.