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Ceanothus is a plant genus that is part of the Rhamnaceae family. It contains several evergreen and deciduous shrubs that are native to Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Central America. Most of the shrubs have smooth bark, bloom with white flowers in the summer, and reach a height of five feet (about 1.5 m). The shrubs typically grow in dry woodlands, rocky clearings, or on hillsides. Some species within the genus have been used as an ingredient in herbal medicine, including Ceanothus americanus, which is also referred to as Red Root.
C. americanus features a large red root that is thick and highly branched. It is generally harvested early in the spring, when the root is especially red. The root is dried and then used primarily as a herbal medicine. It is particularly effective at supporting the lymphatic system, which is responsible for carrying waste tissue away from infected areas. Red Root eventually became known as Jersey Tea, since the leaves of C. americanus were brewed as a tea to obtain similar medicinal properties associated with the root.
A low-growing evergreen plant within the ceanothus genus is C. prostratus, also known as Squaw Carpet. It features a thick ground cover that usually grows five feet (1.5 m) wide. The dark green leaves have a serrated edge and the spring flowers are blue.
Most plants in the ceanothus genus require well draining soil to grow properly. An area that is shaded from the wind, but that receives several hours of direct sunlight is ideal for ceanothus species. Hot, alkaline soil generally hinders the growth of ceanothus. While the plant is growing, a liberal amount of water is required. After the plant has been established, occasional watering is recommended.
Ceanothus is susceptible to damage from several pests, including aphids, armored scales and mealybugs. Aphids are of particular concern since they have a one-two punch when it comes to infestation. Initially, the small pear-shaped insects will cause the yellowing and curling of leaves and shoots of the plant. As they do their damage, they leave behind a sticky substance called honeydew, which attracts spores of the sooty mold fungus. Once established, the mold blackens the stems and leaves of the plant.
Plants within this genus are also susceptible to leaf spot diseases, which are characterized by yellow and brown spots on the leaves. A number of species of fungi cause leaf spot and in most cases, the infection can be controlled. Removing affected leaves and adjusting watering habits prevents the infection from spreading.