Common Ninebark (Opulifolius)

The Common Ninebark (Opulifolius) is generally described as a perennial shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Common Ninebark (Opulifolius) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a slow growth rate. At maturity, the typical Common Ninebark (Opulifolius) will reach up to 10 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 10 feet.

The Common Ninebark (Opulifolius) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, cuttings, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have low vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -33°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Atlantic ninebark is cultivated in the US and in Europe for its foliage, clusters of white flowers in the spring, and red fruits in the autumn. Various cultivars have been selected for compactness of growth, yellow or golden leaf color, and greater size and showiness of flower clusters.

Flowers of Atlantic ninebark are an excellent nectar source, and the fruits are eaten by many species of birds. Physocarpus monogynus of the southwestern US, was used by Indians to relieve pain – the roots were boiled to softness and placed on sores and lesions as a poultice.

General Characteristics

General: Rose Family (Rosaceae). Native shrubs growing 1-3 meters tall, sometimes tree-like, with wide-spreading, recurved branches, the twigs brown to yellowish, glabrous; bark brown to orangish, peeling into thin strips or broader sheets on larger trunks. Leaves are deciduous, alternate, simple, ovate to obovate or nearly round, 3-12 cm long, with 3(-5) shallow, palmate-veined lobes, basally truncate or cuneate, on petioles 1-3 cm long, glabrous above and mostly so beneath but sometimes with a sparse covering of stellate hairs beneath, with crenate or dentate margins. Inflorescence of numerous flowers found in rounded clusters 2.5-5 cm wide; flowers 7-10 mm wide, calyx cup-shaped, glabrous or with stellate hairs, 5-lobed; petals 5, white or pinkish; styles 5; stamens 30-40. Fruit is compressed but inflated, ovoid, 8-12 mm long, shiny, red at maturity, glabrous or hairy, with papery but firm walls, splitting along two sides, in clusters of (2-)3-5 per flower; seeds 2-4. The common name comes from the bark, which continually molts in thin strips, each time exposing a new layer of bark, as if it had “nine lives.” This species flowers in May-July and fruits in May-July.

Variation within the species: two varieties are sometimes recognized within the species. Var. intermedius (Rydb.) B.L. Robins. has fruits that are persistently covered with stellate hairs, while var. opulifolius has glabrous fruits. Var. intermedius is the more western form, occurring from New York, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas to the westernmost localities for the species. Var. opulifolius is broadly distributed in the east, to Minnesota and Iowa, and in Canada from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to Manitoba. Intergradation in the fruit character makes it difficult to discern clear

Required Growing Conditions

Atlantic ninebark occurs widely in eastern North America, in Canada from Manitoba to the easternmost provinces, and in the US from Minnesota to Arkansas (with outlying occurrences in Colorado, North Dakota and South Dakota to Oklahoma) and eastward to the Atlantic states. It has not been recorded from Texas, Louisiana, or Mississippi. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Adaptation The plants are found on moist soils in thickets, along streams in sand or gravel bars, and on rocky slopes and bluffs. Dirr (1997) observes that “the species is adaptable to all conditions, probably even nuclear attacks, and once established, requires a bulldozer for removal.”

Cultivation and Care

Atlantic ninebark can be propagated from cuttings or seeds, which germinate without pre-treatment. It transplants readily and apparently grows easily over a range of light, moisture, and acidity.

General Upkeep and Control

Information on fire response is not available for Atlantic ninebark but shrubs of the western US species Physocarpus malvaceus (Greene) Kuntze readily re-sprout after intense surface burns (Lea & Morgan 1993).

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Slow
General Type Shrub
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Spring
Displays Fall Colors Yes
Shape/Growth Form Multiple Stem
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 10
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Purple
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Cuttings, Seed
Moisture Requirements Low
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -33
Soil Depth for Roots 14
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 4.5–6.5 pH
Precipitation Range 35–35 inches/yr
Planting Density 700–1200 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 14
Minimum Frost-Free Days 100 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance Low
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA