Chaste tree has a long and interesting history. For thousands of years, it has been used to promote celibacy, and treat PMS and infertility. The berries were used as a substitute for pepper. Medical uses, particularly in Europe, continue.
Because of its abundant spires of blue to purple flowers, Vitex was used as a replacement for the well-loved lilac as people moved to the South. A native of Asia, it arrived in North America as early as 1670, and easily adapted to life in the South. In Texas it is a large shrub or a small multi-trunked tree. It can grow to be 15 feet tall and almost as wide. It has olive green leaves with flowers on new growth. If you keep the old flowers trimmed off, new flowers will continue from June to September. Some varieties have white or pink blooms. The spires can appear rather insignificant, however.
The best varieties are improved ones designated as Texas Superstars which include ‘Montrose Purple’, ‘LeCompte’, and ‘Shoal Creek’. They are marketed as ‘Texas Lilac’ Vitex, and have spires 8-12 inches long. Not only are the spires much larger, but they have a nice fragrance and make long-lasting cut flowers. If you don’t have room for a large shrub/small tree, to keep growth under control, it is recommended that the plant be cut to the ground each winter. Then, as the flowers bloom, trim off the old spires, preventing the growth of berries. The berries sprout, forming a blanket of new growth that will not breed true to the parents. Thus the one task needed with these plants—deadhead regularly.
Vitex has no diseases, and if placed in a sunny spot that drains well, will tolerate almost any treatment. It responds well to fertilizer and water, but that is not necessary for a healthy plant. It is so tough that it is used by TX Dot in highway medians.
Vitex is loved by butterflies, hummingbirds, and is deer resistant. Think about getting one for your own garden.
Melva Hermes, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service