In mid-summer you’d be forgiven for walking right past a wavyweaf silktassel (Garrya elliptica), thinking it’s just another large broadleaf evergreen shrub. In the middle of winter, when practically nothing else is blooming, you’d have trouble missing this west coast native with its long tassels of flowers waving gently in the breeze.
Look closely at those pendant tassels and you’ll see that there are separate male and female flowers, each on their own plant. The male catkins are perhaps a little showier than the female, but they’re both striking in contrast to the glossy, dark-green leaves. The flowers are mostly arranged in clusters, usually at the ends of branches. Silktassel begins blooming in January and the catkins usually persist into March.
The evergreen leaves are 2-3 inches long, arranged opposite each other on the twigs, the edges somewhat wavy (thus the name), and are densely hairy on the underside. This large shrub can grow 7-23 feet tall. The bark is grayish brown, the twigs green and hairy when young.
Wavyleaf silktassel is found in the wild along the northern California coast and as far north as Yachats on the Oregon coast. Another common name for this shrub is coast silktassel. You’ll find it on sand dunes, coastal bluffs, forest edges, and chaparral at low to mid elevation. It is hardy, but not native, in the Seattle area.
For the gardener, there are also cultivars of a hybrid silktassel, Garrya x issaquahensis, that is a natural cross between G. elliptica and G. fremontii. The latter is native as far north as Klickitat County in the Columbia Gorge. The northwest is home to five species of Garrya, four of them relatively common and included in our book, Trees and Shrubs of the Pacific Northwest.