Dumbarton House Featured Flora: Chaste Tree

Written by: Kathy Clare, Garden Volunteer

Vitex agnus castus

The Chaste Tree is a native of China and India but has become naturalized throughout the South. Peter Henderson, an early American nurseryman, stated that the Vitex has been cultivated here since 1670. It is a deciduous multi-trunked tree that grows to 10-12 feet with a spread of 8-10 feet. The foliage has a pungent sage-like odor. It is particularly attractive in bloom when the pale violet spikes appear in July. The flowers are quite attractive to bees and butterflies. It prefers full sun and will row in a variety of soils as long as they are well-drained.

The Greeks used an extract of the plant to “calm the male inner Cfire.” In Medieval times there was a belief that utilizing potions made from the berries helped monks maintain their vows of chastity.