These arching shrubs have leathery leaves and clusters of small, urn-shaped white flowers reminiscent of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria). They need acid, well-drained, woodsy, deep soil; do best in woodland gardens. Best used in masses, since they are not especially attractive individually. Bronze-tinted winter foliage is a bonus. Not easy to grow; short lived in most gardens.
L. axillaris. COASTAL LEUCOTHOE. Evergreen. Native to southeastern U.S. Spreading, arching growth to 24 ft. tall, 36 ft. wide. Leathery leaves to 4 in. long are bronzy when new. Flower clusters, 13 in. long, droop along stems in spring. Regular water. 'Curly Red' features puckered leaves that emerge red and purple, turn dark green in summer, and change to burgundy in fall.
L. fontanesiana. DROOPING LEUCOTHOE. Evergreen. Native to southeastern U.S. Slow grower to 26 ft. high and wide; branches arch gracefully. Leathery, 3- to 6-in.-long leaves turn bronzy purple in fall (bronzy green in deep shade). Spreads from underground stems. Blooms in spring, bearing drooping clusters of slightly fragrant flowers. 'Rainbow' grows 34 ft. high, has leaves marked yellow, green, and pink. 'Lovita' is also smaller than the species (2 ft. tall, 4 ft. wide), with smaller, darker green leaves that turn mahogany red in winter. 'Scarletta' is similar in size to 'Lovita'; its leaves are brilliant red on expanding, deep green in summer, and deep red in late fall and winter.
The species and its selections take regular water. You can control the plants' height to make a 1-ft. ground cover in shade; just cut older, taller stems to ground. Blooming branches make decorative cut flowers. Where summers are hot and humid, various leaf spot diseases can cause serious disfiguration or defoliation.
L. racemosa. SWEETBELLS. Deciduous. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to southeastern U.S. Grows 38 ft. tall and wide, with 3-in. leaves that turn red before dropping from their red stems in autumn. Flowers in one-sided, 3-in. clusters at ends of branches in late spring or early summer. Suckers to form colonies. A pink-flowering form is available. Moderate water.