Leiophyllum buxifolium (Berg.) Ell.
Synonyms: Ledum buxifolium Berg.; L. thymifolium Lam.; Leiophyllum thymifolium (Lam.) Eaton; L. serpyllifolium DC.
A small evergreen shrub variable habit in the wild, being erect and up to 3 ft high, or prostrate or decumbent, according to situation and altitude; usually seen in cultivation as a dense bush up to 11⁄2 ft high. Leaves alternate or opposite, oblong, oval, ovate to almost orbicular, 3⁄16 to 1⁄2 in. long, 1⁄16 to 3⁄16 in. wide (occasionally wider), glabrous, glossy, dark green, very shortly stalked. Flowers rosy in the bud, opening in May and June, in crowded terminal clusters 3⁄4 to 1 in. across, each flower 1⁄4 in. in diameter. Petals five, white tipped with pink, oval, spreading almost to the full extent; sepals narrow lance-shaped, about half as long as the petals. Stamens ten, spreading, on slender filaments; anthers reddish brown, opening down the side. Flower-stalks slender, glabrous or clad with stalked glands intermixed with short down. Seed-vessel a two- to five-celled capsule, many-seeded.
A native of eastern North America from New Jersey southward, westward into the mountains of the Carolinas, Tennessee, and E. Kentucky. The above is an overall description of the species, which is usually subdivided into three not very well marked varieties:
var. buxifolium. – This, the typical variety, is mainly confined to the pine-barrens of the coastal plain of New Jersey, but has been recorded from farther south. It has mostly alternate leaves about 1⁄4 in. long, occasionally longer, and the flower-stalks are glabrous or finely downy, not glandular.
var. hugeri (Small) Schneid. Dendrium hugeri Small – This variety occurs in New Jersey with the typical variety. Its main distribution, however, lies farther south, in the coastal plain mainly but extending west into the mountains. The lowland plants differ from the typical variety only in having the flower-stalks glandular, but the type of this variety (i.e., the type of Dendrium hugeri Small) came from the high mountains of the Carolinas and seems to have been near to the var. prostratum, except in having alternate, not opposite leaves. In habit this variety may be erect or decumbent.
var. prostratum (Loud.) A. Gray Ammyrsine prostrata Loud. – This variety appears to be confined to the mountains of the south-eastern states and despite its name it is variable in habit, being erect or prostrate according to situation. It resembles the var. hugeri and differs from the typical variety, in having glandular flower-stalks, but its leaves are mostly opposite, not alternate as in var. hugeri and var. buxifolium. Also the leaves are generally larger, 5⁄16 to 1⁄2 in. long, 1⁄6 to almost 1⁄4 in. wide. The plant figured in Bot. Mag., t. 6752 (1884), appears to belong to this variety, judging from the specimen preserved in the Kew Herbarium, and not to the var. hugeri, as Rehder states in the Manual.
Other characters have been used to distinguish the varieties, but they do not hold good constantly.
L. buxifolium was introduced by Peter Collinson in 1736, though in which variety is not known. The plants now cultivated probably all belong to the var. hugeri or prostratum, but it is doubtful whether there is any point in recognising these varietal names in gardens. As normally seen, L. buxifolium is a charming little shrub of neat aspect, and is at its prettiest just before the flowers expand, when the buds are very rosy. It blossoms very freely, the flowers almost hiding the foliage. The best method of propagating it is by cuttings made of shoots 1 to 11⁄2 in. long in July or August, dibbled in sandy peat, and placed in gentle bottom heat; they should be covered with a bell-glass until rooted.