You probably think the most exciting event in this year’s Summer Olympics will be soccer, gymnastics, or swimming. You are soooo wrong.

Here at Southern Living, our gladiators will be plants. We’ll match dozens of our beloved botanical icons against each other in a knock-down, drag-out contest to crown a single champion – the most Southern of Southern plants.

Round 1

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Our first match in Round 1 is a doozy, pairing two native trees with glorious spring flowers. In this corner, an old favorite that has given its name to innumerable spring trails across the South. It combines white, pink, or red spring blooms with scarlet and crimson fall foliage. Berries that turn red in fall feed countless songbirds. Ladies and gentleman, the state flower of Virginia and North Carolina and the state tree of Missouri, flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)!

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In the opposite corner, a tough, easy-to-grow tree familiar to millions from the East Coast all the way to Texas. Its pea-shaped lavender, pink, purple, or white flowers line it leafless branches in spring, and some even spring directly from the trunk! Fall foliage is yellow. Ladies and gentlemen, the state tree of Oklahoma, Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis)!

Which will be the winner? Cast your vote here.

 

Round 2

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Our next match pits two flowering trees from foreign lands that have won our hearts. In this corner, a popular climbing tree for children and fast-growing shade tree for the yard. Its fragrant pink, silky flowers appear atop fern-like foliage in early summer and attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Ladies and gentlemen, considered a treasure by some and a weed by others, the mimosa (Albizzia julibrissin)!  

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In the opposite corner stands a rising star that tolerates heat and drought and grows in almost any well-drained soil. It claim to fame are showy spikes of blue or purple flowers in summer that rise above leaves that resemble those of marijuana. Ladies and gentleman, a multi-trunked tree named for an extract in its seeds said to calm the libidos of celibate monks, meet the chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)!

Which will be the winner? Cast your vote here.