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Chaste Tree Growing Profile

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Picture of the Chasteberry Tree Image by Tatters:) via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution license

Overview:

The chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) is a lovely deciduous shrub that bears clusters of purple flowers in the summer. It has uses in alternative medicine for women's reproductive issues.

Latin Name:

The botanical name assigned to this shrub is Vitex agnus-castus. It is part of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, though some still have it in the Verbenaceae (verbena) family.

Common Names:

In addition to chasteberry tree, you may see chaste tree, Indian spice, hemp tree, Abraham's balm, lilac chaste tree, vitex, Texas lilac, chasteberry, monk's pepper or sage tree.

Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones:

Vitex agnus-castus may be grown in Zones 6-9. In some areas it may also grow in Zone 5. In the cooler zones it may suffer frost kill each winter, though it usually returns in the spring. It is native to the Mediterranean.

Size & Shape:

The chaste tree will reach a mature size of 8-20' tall and 5-20' wide, maturing into a vase shape. Over time it may become more sprawling, which can be remedied through pruning.

Exposure:

Find a spot in your garden that receives full sun to part shade.

Foliage/Flowers/Fruit:

The leaves are very reminiscent of the marijuana plant (Cannabis sativa) and feature five leaflets in a palmately compound arrangement. They have a fragrance like that of the herb sage.

The purple flower clusters (called panicles) look like those of the butterfly bush (Buddleja spp.) Varieties with white flowers are also available.

The black fruit contains four seeds within. They look like peppercorns and are sometimes used to flavor food.

Design Tips:

Use Vitex agnus-castus in a butterfly garden as they love the flowers on this shrub. Bees also favor the blooms.

You can make sure there are some later blooms in your garden by choosing this shrub since it blossoms in summer. You can encourage continued production by deadheading spent flowers.

In some areas of the United States this has become an invasive shrub. You should call your local garden center or cooperative extension service to check the status for your city.

Growing Tips:

Choose a location where the water drains away instead of sitting. This shrub can handle acidic to alkaline soils.

Propagation methods include seeds, cuttings and layering.

Maintenance/Pruning:

You can make a chaste tree into a tree with a single trunk by pruning to create a central leader. Yearly pruning during winter will help keep the shrub in an attractive shape. It tolerates heavy pruning well.

Pests & Diseases:

Usually the only problems you may see on Vitex agnus-castus are root rots, nematodes and leaf spots, though they are not common. Aphids, whiteflies and scales may also attack sometimes.

Medicinal Uses:

Our Alternative Medicine Guide, Cathy Wong, mentions that the fruit of the chaste tree is traditionally used to treat gynecological issues and acne. She also explains that the name chaste tree came about because it may suppress the sex drive.

Note: this section is only for informational purposes and is not to be used as medical advice. Consult with your doctor or other health professional before using chaste tree.

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