The Pieris japonica plant is a member of the heather family that is naturally found in the mountains of East Asian countries such as China, Japan, and Taiwan. It is often referred to as Japanese pieris and numerous Pieris japonica varieties and cultivars are available for the garden.
This plant is frequently referred to as the Japanese Andromeda. This naming goes back to when it used to be in a different genus and listed as Andromeda japonica; so don't confuse members of the Pieris genus with the Andromeda genus (one plant, the Bog-rosemary) even though they are both in the Ericaceae family and similarly classed as heather or heath.
It makes a great ornamental evergreen shrub to grow in the garden as it is one of the first to bloom, typically in late winter or early spring. The leaves and buds also make it a great winter interest plant.
New Growth in Shade growing Japanese pieris photograph by Ben Martin; CC.
Most parts of the plant are poisonous if consumed so it is often grown as a deer resistant shrub, indeed the Rutgers Agricultural Experiment station rates it an 'A' (Rarely damaged) for resistance to these pesky animals. It makes a good plant to grow if you want to attract bees to your garden.
Japanese Pieris tends to grow as a shrub or as a small tree, where it can reach a height of about 13 feet (4 m).
There are numerous cultivars available (see specific section later on) so the following is more a description of the wild type plants that are found natively growing in Japan. The trunk is dark grey, branches are red to dark gray, twigs are chartreuse. Plants have simple leaves, flowers bloom in early spring and last for about three weeks, and the flowers are white.
Pieris japonica 'Mountain Fire' is the most commonly grown cultivar of this species. Bushy. It is grown for its amazing foliage, with new growth being a stunningly vivid orange-red. Leaves will then change colour as they age; first a cooper green and finally a dark green when mature. Cream-white flowers in the middle of spring.
Pieris japonica varieties'Yakushima' (This variety includes the cultivars 'Prelude' and 'Cavatine'). Dark Green Leaves; White flowers, Slow Growing.
'Katsura' Compact. Shiny dark green leaves; leaves are a dark red when plant is young. Dark pink buds, pink and white flowers.
'Cavatine' Compact, Cold hardy, white flowers in late sppring (Blooms later than other members of the species).
'Flaming Silver' Erect shrub, bright red leaves when young - turning green, leaves have silver-white margins, cream coloured bell shaped flowers in the spring
'Little Heath' Compact, Dark green leaves (bright when young), pink buds, panicles of small white flowers.
'Purity' Compact, Early bloomer, Large flowers, white.
'Bisbee Dwarf' or 'Pygmaea' Miniature form, also groan as a Bonsei tree. Very compact, much smaller foliage size.
'Dorothy Wycoff' Compact, Vigorous growth, Red buds, light pink flowers, Dark green leaves; these turn to bronze in the winter.
If you like this plant you may also like to grow other broadleaf evergreen shrubs as companions such as Rhododendron catawbiense, Yucca filamentosa, and Kalmia latifolia