Published on 02/24/11

Plants win gold medals for hardiness, beauty

By Stephanie Schupska

From a black-eyed beauty to a fringe-covered tree, this year’s Georgia Gold Medal plant winners are earning their gold with color, deer tolerance and adaptability to poor soils.

Since 1993, each year an elite group of green industry and academic professionals from across Georgia have select outstanding ornamental plants in five categories. The Georgia Gold Medal awards are aimed at getting deserving but underused plants into Georgia landscapes.

And the 2011 winners, by category, are Black-eyed Susan (annual), Nippon lily (perennial), camellia (evergreen shrub), nuttall oak (deciduous) and fringetree (native plant).

Black-eyed Susan

For the annual gold medal, three black-eyed Susan cultivars were chosen: Indian Summer, Denver Daisy and Irish Eyes. Indian Summer has golden yellow petals surrounding a brown center cone. Denver Daisy has two-toned petals creating a golden halo around a large chocolate-russet center. Irish Eyes have bright-yellow petals around a green cone. All blooms attract butterflies.

These plants bloom from early summer until first frost. Standing 24 to 36 inches tall, they are perfect for the middle of a flowerbed or planted together in a large group. The flowers make great cut flowers.

Nippon Lily

Liven up the winter woodland with Nippon lily’s bold evergreen foliage. Deer and drought resistant, its green leaves create a 2-foot-wide clump. They are similar to amaryllis leaves. Spring blooms are barely noticeable, but each bloom turns into a fat, bright-red berry in late fall, creating a berry cluster that contrasts with rich green leaves and the brown mulch of winter.

Plant Nippon lily in slightly moist to dry shade about 12 to 16 inches apart.


There are two great camellia varieties to choose from – Japanese camellia and sasanqua camellia. Sasanquas flower in late fall and are less likely to suffer from early freezes than japonicas, which bloom in winter. The sasanqua drops its flower petals individually, which gives it an extended display both on the plant and on the ground. Sasanquas are more tolerant of sunny conditions. Both grow best with filtered afternoon shade.

Camellias will reach 5 to 20 feet high with an equal width. They are commonly used in screens, hedges or as formal foundation plantings. Flower color varies from white to pink to red (including mottled flowers) and includes single and double flowers. Plant camellias in the spring in a neutral to slightly acidic soil amended with organic matter.

Nuttall Oak

One of the many red oaks, nuttall oak is an important species for wildlife management due to its heavy acorn production. It adds 1 to 2 feet of new growth per year. It produces few surface roots and can be planted more closely to sidewalks, pavements and buildings than some other oak varieties. It grows to about 60 feet with an 80-foot crown.

Nuttall oak can tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions including clay, loamy and sandy soils. It prefers acidic and well-drained soils, but can tolerate flooding and is moderately drought tolerant. Full sun is best for rapid growth, particularly in the first few years following planting.


Fringetree is native to the U.S. from eastern Texas up to Maryland. One of the most beautiful flowering small trees, fringetree can bloom as long as six weeks in the spring. At the end of the bloom period, emerging lime-green leaves accent the snowy blooms for an impressive finale. It is adaptable to a variety of light and soil conditions, although full sun ensures optimum flowering.

Fringetree attracts a variety of insects while in bloom and birds and small mammals when fruiting in late summer. It has a sweet fragrance and bears brown oval drupes that turn purple in late summer. It prefers moist, well-drained, fertile soil but tolerates a wide variety, including red clay. It adapts well to urban environments.

Stephanie Schupska is the communications coordinator with the University of Georgia Honors College.

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