You know those little symbols that many garden books have to give you an idea of what requirements a plant has with just a quick glance? Well the entry for this genus has just about every category filled with multiple symbols. The water symbols range from little to regular water, the sun symbol goes from full sun to light shade. Even the range of zones (according to Sunset’s Western Garden Book) takes in zone 7 through zone 24 and two zones in Hawaii. At a glance, it sounds pretty versatile, right?
In fact, one of the toughest species, Dodonaea viscosa (known as hop bush or hopseed bush), is native to Hawaii as well as Arizona! A closer look at its attributes shows that it forms a handsome shrub from 10 to 15 feet in height and almost as wide but can be trimmed as a hedge or even espaliered into nearly two-dimensional shapes. It has narrow, (normally) green leaves that somewhat resemble those of willow. The flowers are inconspicuous, but the small, three-angled seed capsules are quite showy. Their papery wings come in colors from red to pink, tan, yellow, or green.
Speaking of color, there are some named selections that have very purple-bronze foliage. These colors will be most intense in full sun and under drought stress. The cultivar ‘Purpurea’ is probably most common. Seed-grown plants will display a range of color variants, but at least one cutting-grown variety, ‘Saratoga,’ is consistently deep purple. Plant hop bush as a screen or at the back of the border where its green or purple foliage will serve as a backdrop for other plantings.
There are a few less common species from Australia that you may encounter. D. tenuifolia, which may also go under the name D. adenophora or D. microzyga, has very finely divided foliage and showy red fruits. It grows as a spreading shrub from three to 10 feet in height. D. boroniifolia is also smaller than the American hop bush. It, too, has ferny leaves and pinkish to reddish capsules. Both are sturdy and drought tolerant.