Silk Tassel Bush: How To ID, Plant, Care for Types of Silk Tassel Shrubs, Flowers

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | May 9, 2024

Woman watering a silk tassel bush after reading a growing guide on how to identify silk tassel plant, where to grow types of silk tassel shrubs for a cascading flower bush.

Garrya elliptica, also known as Silk Tassel Bush, is a large V-shaped shrub with shiny green leaves, long strands of showy flowers, and clusters of grape-like fruits (female only).

It’s known as an arborescent shrub, which means it can grow big enough to look like a small tree.

However, small shrub varieties are often used in landscape gardening.

There are both male and female versions of this plant, which has earned the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in the UK, a significant indication of quality.1

It was originally brought to England from Oregon by David Douglas in the early 1800’s.2

So, if you’re considering growing a Silk Tassel bush in your outdoor area, this complete guide outlines everything you need to know to ensure that it flourishes.

Silk Tassel Bush

(Garrya elliptica)

Silk Tassel Bush in an oval frame on a green background
  • Family: Garryaceae
  • Genus: Garrya
  • Characteristics: An evergreen shrub with dangling strands of flowers, shiny leaves, and grape-like clusters of fruit
  • Leaf: Broadleaf evergreen, elliptical in shape
  • Bark: Starts out smooth green to light brown; turns rough and dark brown as it ages
  • Seed: 2 seeds per each berry, sow between late summer and early fall
  • Blossoms: Showy, cascading strands of gray, silver, white, cream or green flowers that bloom in January and February
  • Fruit: ¼ inch wide grape-like clusters in long strands ranging from green, purple, and lavender with purple-gray hairs
  • Native Habitat: Coastal ranges; on slopes with well-drained clay or loam
  • Height: 7 ft to 20 ft
  • Canopy: Sphere form; shiny green leaves with long catkins
  • Type: Deciduous
  • Native Growing Zone: Western United States and Central America

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Image Credit: Ben Tovee13

The name Garrya is derived from Nicholas Garry, secretary of the Hudson Bay Company and the assistant of David Douglas.2 Elliptica is Greek for “twice as long as broad” which describes the plant’s leaves.

In addition to the Silk Tassel Bush, Garrya elliptica is sometimes referred to as Coast Silktassel or Wavyleaf Silktassel.

The Silk Tassel Bush is a highly attractive evergreen shrub. Its bright-colored “streaming” flowers grow like pendulums and they can bring your yard or garden to life in the wintertime.

The shrub also produces small berries that attract a wide range of birds and insects.

Looking for more Silk Tassel Bush facts? Keep reading to learn about how to identify, plant, and grow Garrya elliptica as well as this shrub’s beautiful leaves, flowers, and seeds.

How To Identify Silk Tassel Bush (Garrya elliptica)

You may wonder how to identify Garrya elliptica (the Silk Tassel Bush) out in the wild.3 This shrub mostly thrives on slopes situated around dry coastal areas in the Western part of the United States or Central America.

It grows exceptionally well in well-drained clay or loam soil, though it’s not overly fussy about its soil conditions.3

If you’re planning to add this beautiful plant to your property, you might be wondering how large the Silk Tassel Bush (aka Tassel Tree or Coast Silk Tassel) grows. Whether it’s grown as a hedge or trained into a small tree, the Silk Tassel Bush makes for a beautiful addition to any winter garden – even when it’s not flowering.

What is the typical height of a Silk Tassel Bush? As a shrub, Garrya elliptica will usually grow to 6 to 8 feet on average, but some types are capable of growing up to 20 ft. tall. It can be anywhere from 7 ft. to 16 ft. wide.3

An infographic titled silk tassel bush identification with images showcasing the silk tassel bush seeds, silk tassel bush flower, and silk tassel bush leaves of the plant.

(Image of “Seed”: Al Kordesch14)

To identify a Silk Tassel Bush, you’ll want to closely inspect its leaves, flowers, and seeds. To help you, below are detailed descriptions of each:

Silk Tassel Bush Leaves

Like all plants in the Garrya genus, Garrya elliptica leaves are glossy with a tough leather-like feel and a waxy green top, which can add a bit of unique texture to your garden. These leaves are also simple with an oval-like shape and small wooly hairs underneath.4

Its stems are usually a brown or copper color, and the margins on the leaves are wavy and often curl, but they do not have spines.3 The leaves, combined with the plant’s multi-branching structure give the canopy a unique sphere-like shape.4

Silk Tassel Bush Flowers

Bright strands of flowers are the primary aesthetic feature of the Silk Tassel Bush. These showy bright types of white flowers are very attractive and they come to life every winter (January or February).

The flowers are grouped into clusters, which appear to flow out of the leaves and downward as catkins.3 Because of the way they hang or stream from the shrub, some compare them to Christmas decorations.

Above each leaf pair, there is a triplet of flowers with a total of four stamens per flower. The male catkins are a grayish-green color and can extend up to 12 inches long, while the females tend to be more of a silver, cream, or white color and are much shorter – only 2 to 3 inches long.3

Silk Tassel Bush flowers usually appear in late winter and after they bloom, they turn into dried light gray leaves which give the plant a nice look throughout much of the spring and summer.3 The plant’s stems start a bright green color but gradually turn brown as the plant matures.

The James Roof variety of the Silk Tassel Bush is especially known for its bright flowers and long tassels.

Silk Tassel Bush Seeds

The Silk Tassel Bush produces tiny black seeds from purplish/blackberries produced on its lengthy strands. There are 2 seeds in each berry.

When growing Garrya elliptica from seed, the germination process can be up to a few months. Seeds should be started in late summer or fall for the best results.

Seeds and established plants can be found all year long at garden centers and online suppliers.11

The Silk Tassel Bush can sometimes be confused with a Coast Live Oak or a Leather Oak, but you can distinguish Garrya elliptica by its grayish-green elliptic leaves with no spines.

Both the Coast Live Oak and the Leather Oak have ovate or oblong leaves with spines that are brighter green.5

The Best Growing Conditions for Silk Tassel Bush

In the United States, 8 through 11 are the best hardy growing zones for Silk Tassel Bush. Where to grow it for the best results comes down to climate and soil.3

The Silk Tassel Bush is a low-maintenance plant that is highly durable in most conditions; however, it does not like hot, humid summers or wet, soggy winters.3 As a result, it struggles to grow and thrive in the Southeastern United States.

Hanging clusters of the Garrya elliptica with green and brown leaves.

(Image: Andrew Fogg15)

As long as the climate is dry and moderate, the Silk Tassel Bush can grow healthy. In the right conditions, the shrub is very durable.

It’s highly resistant to animals and pests and doesn’t have strong soil preferences.3

So how much sunlight does Silk Tassel Bush need each day? It grows well in either full sun (6+ hours) or partial shade (2-6 hours of direct sunlight); however, partial shade is usually recommended in hotter climates, especially if you want to get the brightest blooms.12

Because it dislikes humidity, the Pacific coast or Southwestern US are the best growing areas for Garrya elliptica. In the wild, it’s mostly found within 20 miles of the Pacific Ocean.

The Silk Tassel Bush likes soil pH between six and eight, and while this plant doesn’t necessarily mind a drought, it tends to bloom brighter when receiving at least 25 inches of rainfall each year. For best results, it should be planted in a mound above grade.

While the Silk Tassel Bush can thrive in full sun, it doesn’t like extreme heat, so if you’re in a hot climate, partial sun might be the better choice. Persistent temperatures over 100° F will cause it to suffer.

It does well in the cold as it’s able to withstand cold temperatures down to about 15° F.3 However, if the shrub is planted in a pot or container, roots will need to be protected when the temperature drops below freezing.

While well-drained soil is beneficial, it’s not necessary.

Silk Tassel Bush Growth Rate

Many gardeners are curious about how long it takes to grow Silk Tassel Bush. Garrya elliptica is a moderate to fast-growing plant.

Germination takes between 90 and 120 days, and once established, this shrub will usually grow 22 to 24 inches every year until it reaches full maturity (as large as 20 feet).11 However, it can take a couple of years for the plant to be established.

A full silk tassel tree, with its hanging catkins, set against a rural landscape.

(Image: Anlace16)

It also has a lengthy lifespan that can exceed 150 years. James roof growth is also fast, but the fully mature plant will be smaller (6 to 8 feet tall).

How To Care for the Silk Tassel Bush

Wondering about how to care for the Silk Tassel Bush? The good news is caring for it is easy as Garrya elliptica needs minimal maintenance.

Both the Silk Tassel Bush and the James Roof cultivar are highly resistant to both deer and rabbits.3 Pests don’t bother this shrub either.

Other than aphids, there are no common pests of the Silk Tassel Bush. In the rare event you do notice a pest problem, horticultural oils can make for good natural pest control for Silk Tassel Bush.

Watering needs for the tassel tree are also minimal.3 Once established, the Silk Tassel Bush only needs to be watered three times per month at most.

Pruning isn’t necessary for the most part. In fact, Garrya elliptica does not respond well to remedial pruning.9 Attempting to prune can lead to awkward or dense growth, and should only be done when trying to eliminate disease or pests.

If you do need to prune, it should be done as soon as the flowers bloom and the tassel display has finished. If you prune earlier, you’ll risk cutting away the branches on which the tassels and flowers form, which will cause you to miss a year of flowers.

When pruning, do so lightly, and remove any dead branches.9

If you plan to train the Silk Tassel Bush to tree form, be aware that basal shoots will regularly grow, and you’ll need to remove them regularly.9

How To Stop Silk Tassel Bush Disease

Keeping your shrub healthy is the key to maximizing its longevity, but many wonder how to stop Silk Tassel Bush disease. While this plant can fend off a lot of infections, like all plants, it is susceptible to rot and fungal disease.

A close-up of a coast silk tassel leaf with purple blotches.

(Image: Salix17)

Silk Tassel Bush disease prevention starts with monitoring the plant for signs of disease. These signs include:

  • Black Spots (or leaf spots): A pathogen that appears as black spots on the leaves, this disease is easy to identify.10 You should carefully prune away diseased leaves and be sure to wipe down your tools with a mild bleach solution (only 10% bleach) between plants so the disease doesn’t spread.
  • Early Flower Withering: If your Silk Tassel Bush’s flowers begin to wither in late winter or early spring, it could be a sign of root rot.
    Flowers should typically last until the end of the spring season. Prune away dead flowers and avoid overwatering.10
  • Slowed Growth or Delayed Blooms: The Silk Tassel Bush is a fast grower. If your plant is only growing a few inches a year or its blooms are delayed or not occurring at all, it could be a sign of root rot or infection.
  • White Fungus Underneath Bark: Honey fungus rarely affects the Silk Tassel Bush, but it can happen. Look for signs of white between the wood and the bark.
  • Yellow or Brown Leaves: If you notice yellow or brown leaves or leaves with holes in early spring, this can be due to extended periods of frigid temperatures during the winter. However, it could also be due to the natural part of the aging process.
    Unfortunately, if it is due to aging, this is a natural part of the plant’s life cycle and is irreversible. Pruning will not help preserve the plant in this instance.
    However, the Silk Tassel Bush can live up to 150 years, so aging shouldn’t be an issue as long as the shrub is well cared for.

While Silk Tassel Bush disease should be rare, it is important to note that quickly identifying and treating root rot is the best way to increase the lifespan of the impacted plant. Frequent monitoring, adequate watering (not too much), and soil nutrition are the best ways to keep your Silk Tassel Bush happy and healthy.

Types of Garrya elliptica (James Roof and Others)

There are several varieties of Garrya elliptica including James Roof, which is the Silk Tassel Bush’s cultivar.3 It’s a small shrub that is commonly used in smaller gardens or as hedging.

James Roof is most frequently sold in the UK, and its flowers are usually a brighter white color and there is a grayish tint to its leaves. The James Roof was named after the first director of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Berkeley, California.1

Another popular cultivar is “Evie”, which is native to the Bay Area, California, and very similar to James Roof, but typically has a denser canopy.6 In both instances, you’ll mostly find male plants in nurseries and garden stores as they tend to produce showy flowers.

Female varieties can be difficult to find.

An infographic illustrating signs of Silk Tassel Bush Disease, including black spots, white fungus, early flower withering, slowed growth, and yellow or brown leaves.

In addition to the James Roof and Evie, two other common varieties include the G. x issaquahensis ‘Pat Ballard’, which has a subtle mauve touch on the catkins and G. x issaquahensis ‘Glasnevin Wine’ which has a slightly reddish catkins.

These varieties are very beautiful, but far less common and difficult to find at garden stores.

Tips for Planting the Silk Tassel Bush (James Roof Variety)

If you’d like to enjoy blooming strands of flowers during the winter, we’re here to share some planting tips for Silk Tassel Bush (James Roof Variety). Seeds can be purchased or extracted from crushed berries between May and August, and they should be kept dry and stored in a refrigerator until sown.8

If starting indoors, rinse seeds overnight in fresh water and drain the next morning. Then place the seeds in a freezer bag with pH-neutral moss, moisten the bag, and store it in the refrigerator until the seeds begin to sprout (2 to 3 months).

When transplanting the germinants, be sure they’re placed in a full-sun or partial-sun location.8 Wondering when to plant Silk Tassel Bush for the best yield?

Late summer or early fall is usually the ideal time, and don’t forget to provide the shrub or tree with a thorough watering weekly until the plant is well-established.

Wondering how far apart to plant Silk Tassel Bushes? If planting multiple shrubs, make sure to allow for between 72” and 120” of spacing.

Make sure to allow for at least 10 feet of clearance, or up to 15 feet if you’re planning to train it into a tree.4

Common Uses for the Tassel Tree (Coast Silk Tassel)

The Silk Tassel Bush is often used in landscaping. As one of the most beautiful winter landscaping shrubs, the James Roof shrub makes for a great addition to your garden.

A silk tassel bush densely covered with its characteristic hanging catkins surrounded by green leaves and some brown foliage.

(Image: Alex Heyman18)

It’s also used as an ornamental plant or a hedge, and you frequently see it growing up against walls, as the plant appreciates the extra shelter.

However, if you’re interested in a full-grown Garrya elliptica, the size and thick spherical shape of its canopy make it one of the best landscaping trees or privacy trees around as it can block views and noise. It also provides excellent wind shelter.

Because of its wide, dense canopies, large silk tassel trees can be used to effectively control soil erosion and stormwater runoff.

While stories of Silk Tassel Bush symbolism are largely unreported, the Yurok Native Americans would use tools made from the Silk Tassel Bush to remove mussels from rocks hundreds of years ago.3

The bitter leaves were also historically used as an antiperiodic and a fever-reducing medicine as well as in teas to treat colds and stomach aches; however, there is no evidence to support its effectiveness.

Silk Tassel Bush, like many shrubs, features strong, close-grained wood that was used in woodworking and its bitter leaves and bark were used as insect-repellent.7

So, if you’re considering adding one of these low maintenance plants to your landscape, know that it will grow quickly and last for years.

Frequently Asked Questions About Silk Tassel Bush

Do You Recommend Growing a Silk Tassel Bush From a Seed, Cutting, or Seedling?

This plant can be grown from seed or cutting and both can be effective. When propagating by seed, expect 3 months of stratification.

What Are Some Companion Plants for Growing Silk Tassel Bush?

The Silk Tassel Bush looks great in other winter plants like Cotoneaster horizontalis, and C. sericea flaviramea. It can also benefit from being planted near Scrub Oak, Coffee Berry, California Sagebrush, Hummingbird Sage, and Large Leaved Mahala Mat.

What Is the Silk Tassel Bush Growing Zone?

The Silk Tassel Bush is hardy in zones 8 – 11, which covers the Pacific Coast and sections of the Southwest United States.

What Is the Silk Tassel Bush Growth Rate?

Garrya elliptica has a moderate to rapid growth rate and will grow up to 24 inches each year until it reaches 15 to 20 feet tall at full maturity.

Is the Silk Tassel Bush an Evergreen?

Yes, Garrya elliptica is an evergreen as it retains its leaves throughout the entire year.

When Does Silk Tassel Bush Bloom?

Flowers bloom in late winter or early spring. After they dry, they turn a light brown and maintain a beautiful appearance throughout most of the summer.

Is Silk Tassel Bush a Dioecious?

Yes, Silk Tassel Bush has male and female varieties. Both produce catkins which bloom in the winter; however, the male plants are longer and more showy.


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10Grabowski, M. (2018). Leaf spot diseases of trees and shrubs. University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved February 16, 2024, from <>

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12Oregon State University. (2024). Garrya elliptica | Landscape Plants | Oregon State University. Oregon State Landscape Plants. Retrieved February 16, 2024, from <>

13Species Information Image: A Tree Filled With Lots of Green Leaves Photo by Ben Tovee. (2023, February 13) / Unsplash License. Cropped and Resized. Unsplash. Retrieved April 3, 2024, from <>

14Photo 56609971 Photo by Al Kordesch. (2019, November 19) / CC0 1.0 DEED | CC0 1.0 Universal. Cropped and added image, text, shape, and background elements. iNaturalist. Retrieved April 3, 2024, from <>

15garrya elliptica Photo by Andrew Fogg. (2007, February 17) / CC BY 2.0 DEED | Attribution 2.0 Generic. Cropped and Resized. Flickr. Retrieved April 3, 2024, from <>

16Coastsilk Photo by Anlace. (2006, February 25) / Public domain. Cropped and Resized. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved April 3, 2024, from <>

17Garrya elliptica in Jardin des plantes in february 03 Photo by Salix. (2015, February 27) / CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International. Cropped and Resized. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved April 3, 2024, from <>

18Photo 59017116 Photo by Alex Heyman. (2020, January 3) / CC0 1.0 DEED | CC0 1.0 Universal. Cropped and Resized. iNaturalist. Retrieved April 3, 2024, from <>