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Nearly 150 shrubs grow in the various natural ecosystems in West Virginia, dominating some high mountaintops, swamps, and bogs. The evergreen rhododendron (great laurel) is our state flower and grows in dense impenetrable thickets, once called ‘‘laurel hells.’’ Purple laurel has beautiful purple flowers and grows naturally in southeastern West Virginia. Azaleas (honeysuckles) are deciduous rhododendrons with large colorful pink, orange, red, and white flowers. The fragrance of white azaleas is exceptionally nice.

Three native roses provide showy pink flowers protected by sharp thorns. Five dogwood shrubs grow naturally in West Virginia and are known for showy clusters of white flowers and white to bluish fruits that are excellent food for wildlife. Twenty hawthorns and eight viburnums (haws) make up the largest shrub groups. Both provide important wildlife foods and are common ornamentals with showy white flower clusters.

The rarest native shrubs are woolly Hudsonia, prickly rose, common juniper, Virginia spiraea, Allegheny sloe, alder-leaved and Carolina buckthorns, Canby’s mountain lover, box huckleberry, and recurved fetterbush.

Blueberries, huckleberries, elderberries, hazelnuts, pawpaws, plums, serviceberries, and choke cherry provide tasty edible fruits for humans and wildlife. Holly berries are traditional Christmas decorations, spicebush was once used to flavor wild meats, bark of leatherwood was substituted for leather, and mountain laurel was carved into eating utensils. Medicinal shrubs include willows, witch hazel, St. John’s wort, roses, toothache tree, wahoo, and hydrangea.

Exotic invasive shrubs, including multiflora rose, autumn olive, privet, winged euonymus, Japanese barberry, glossy buckthorn, and Morrow’s honeysuckle are aggressive pests of pastures, roadsides, vacant lots, and open forests.

Written by William N. Grafton