Unusual Plants for a Garden

Unusual plants include species imported from other countries, such as India's bread flower (Vallaris solanacea). Plants that are uncommon might also have extraordinary features and religious significance, like the passion flower (Passiflora). Or they could be plants with a specific cultural profile, such as the Japanese sakura cherry blossom tree (Prunus serrulata). So consider plants with unusual characteristics to add a new dimension to your garden.

Ornamental Kale

The ornamental kale (Brassica oleracea) is the sort of plant you might expect to find in "Alice In Wonderland." This fascinating species is commonly called a "flowering cabbage." Basically, it has the appearance of a cabbage, with a large rosette of ruffled or serrated leaves that are white or pink or reddish-purple in the center. Kale is a member of the cabbage family, and the ornamental version produces leaves instead of a traditional cabbage head. "Kale" is the Scottish name that stuck. The original name was Roman "cole," and the plant is of Mediterranean origin. Kale arrived in China around the 4th century, and in Japan too around that time. It became a popular garden plant in the 17th century. Kale popped up in American seed catalogs in 1936, thanks to Howard Dorsett (U.S. Department of Agriculture) who introduced ornamental kales from Japan in the late 1920s. Ornamental kale prefers regular sunlight and good drainage, in the ground or in pots. If you can bear to part with these pretty plants, the leaves of ornamental kale are edible.

Strawberry Tree

The small, slow-growing strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) is an ornamental evergreen---and can reach between 15 and 30 feet tall. The strawberry tree is native to Ireland, southern Europe and the western Mediterranean and is also a popular tree in California, and has many cultivars. Contrary to its name, the strawberry tree does not produce actual strawberries, just strawberry-like fruit. However, its red fruit and pink flowers that cascade in drooping clusters give the tree an appearance of grace and gentility. The strawberry tree is favored for woodland gardens and coastal areas because it is salt tolerant. Its fruit is used in preserves and in European wine making. Small animals and birds favor the fruit, and birds also spread the seeds of the strawberry tree extensively.


The manzanita (Arctostaphylos) is a small tree or hedge with a large personality. Its name means "little apples" in Spanish, and that is what the plant forms from its small white and pink flowers that become miniature red fruit. Manzanita trees are famous for their bark. Young twigs and flower stalks can be showily red and purple. Older branches turn red and brown in a myriad of fascinating shapes. Manzanita wood becomes pale gray or white in the sun. This tree is popular as bird perches and aquarium décor. Over 60 manzanita plant species exist, and some are rare and endangered.

Keywords: unusual garden plants, ornamental kale, strawberry tree

About this Author

Based in Northern California, Maureen Katemopoulos has been a freelance writer for over 25 years. Her articles on travel, the arts, cuisine and history have appeared in Stanislaus Magazine, Orientations, The Asia Magazine, and The Peninsula Group Magazine, among others. She holds a Baccalaureate degree in journalism from Stanford University.