Physocarpus capitatus

J.G. in San Francisco took today’s Botany Photo of the Day at Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Berkeley, California. Thanks once again to J.G. for sharing his invariably wonderful photos in our Flickr pool. (Original Image). Steve Coughlin wrote this entry.

Rosaceae is a fairly large family that consists of between 100 and 160 genera, and between 3000 and 4000 species. The family’s many fruits adhere roughly to four basic structural patterns, by which botanists often—though not always—divide the family into the four subfamilies of Rosoideae, Spiraeoideae, Maloideae, and Amygdaloideae. These subfamilies variously produce apples, pears, peaches, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and several other edible fruits and nuts as well. Of course, members of Rosaceae are also cultivated as the showy, fragrant, and sought-after ornamentals of bouquet, lapel, and poetic renown.

A genus of about 10 deciduous, shrubby species, Physocarpus is primarily native to North America, though a few species hail from northeastern Asia. Physocarpus is distinguished in part by the way in which its bark peels away from its stem in flaky layers. The genus’s common name originally derived from the (mistaken) belief that there were 9 of these strata, and its scientific name comes from the Greek for 'bladder fruit'. Species range from 1 to 4 metres in height, and don palmate, serrated leaves along with small, five-petaled white flowers.

Physocarpus capitatus, a native of North America’s western coast, grows to a height of 4 metres and to a spread of 1 metre. The species name, capitatus, refers to the plant’s dense, head-like clusters of flowers and fruits. The plant flowers in late-spring to early-summer, and thrives in a combination of slightly acidic soil and ample sun, particularly when sited in the moist soils of mountain slopes, lake shores, and river margins. Though moisture is integral to the plant’s success, Physocarpus capitatus is nevertheless quite drought-resistant and is hardy to zone 5.

In today’s photo, P. capitatus conjures thoughts of kettle corn kernels pressed tightly together, sweating and ready to pop. While this pre-bloomed sight is itself something to savour, the species—which serves as a common garden ornamental in California—has achieved particular distinction for its appearance after its blooms have fallen, when a bronze-coloured shield of dry seed husks emerges as if to protect the remaining plant from the harsh summer sun.

Physocarpus capitatus

11 responses to “Physocarpus capitatus”


    Thanks you for these wonderful photos every day. As a botanical artist I am always fascinated by the amazing plant world we share.

  2. John Peterson

    Beautiful photos every day! The description of the Pacific ninebark makes me hope for a photograph soon of its “bronze-coloured shield of dry husks.”

  3. Kathleen Hayes

    I look forward to my daily BPotD email. Have you considered tweeting your daily posts?

  4. jan

    We planted a hedge of Physocarpus sp ‘Diablo’ and it has been a winner. Gorgeous pink flowers and great fast growing purple stems that screen visitors from students playing tonsil hockey at breaktimes. I am trying to grow out a variegated Euonymus underneath it so that in the winter it will be purple emerging from silver and green.
    Didn’t know the genus came from N America. Will add that info to the planting plan. Thanks

  5. sheila

    Another stunning pic. Another shrub to add to the ever lengthening wish list.
    Quote “particular distinction for its appearance after its blooms have fallen, when a bronze-coloured shield of dry seed husks emerges as if to protect the remaining plant from the harsh summer sun.”
    Please can we see a pic of these also, when they form.
    Thank you

  6. mtn_laurel

    Apologies if I’m just not reading the description very well, but what is the common name of this group of plants/species? (What would I ask for to track it down at a nursery?)

  7. Eric La Fountaine

    Hey Mountain Laurel, it’s in the title, Pacific ninebark or Tall ninebark.

  8. Eric Simpson

    If you can’t wait to see the “bronze-coloured shield of dry husks,” CalPhotos has quite a few pics: .

  9. Miriam Schwartz

    There is a smaller version of Diabolo called Summer Wine – purple leaves, a bit more triangular, and light pink flowers – the fruits are not quite as notable as Diablo. However, if a 5 foot shrub is desired rather than a 10 foot shrub, this is nice one with the same great foliage

  10. elizabeth a airhart

    the bark of the plant is most interesting
    just a delight in full bloom
    thank you -the close up is just so fine

  11. mtn_laurel

    oh, wow. I really have no excuse for that …
    I’ll just say I was so distracted by the pretty picture 🙂

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