Chaste Tree, Monk’s Pepper
Vitex agnus castus



The Vitex species of shrubs and trees is very well suited to thrive in nearly all areas of North and South Carolina. Unlike its pesky cousin, Beach Vitex (Vitex rotundiflora), it is not invasive or aggressive. Most Vitex agnus castus types are native to Mediterranean regions of southern Europe and northern Africa. It is most commonly known as the Chaste Tree or as Monk’s Pepper. Various portions of the tree have been used as homeopathic and alternative remedies for centuries.

chastetree

Technically, it is considered a large flowering shrub but is easily grown as a small to medium sized tree in the Carolinas. Commonly, it will reach 10-15 feet tall and wide in most Appalachian areas of the Carolinas,15-20 feet in foothills and piedmont regions and larger along the coastal plain. If left to its natural growth habit, it is will form a multi-trunked, spreading shrub. It is easily trained to a tree form. It accepts hard pruning well. Pruning is best conducted in late winter or early spring.

The species is a member of the Verbena family. Thus, one may correctly surmise that these plants are tough and vigorous. Humorously, the leaf structures on a young Vitex plant can closely resemble those of Cannabis (marijuana) species. Rest easy, Vitex is 100% legal and definitely less expensive. A specimen may attract quizzical looks from neighbors or passersby on occasion though.

In habit, form and season of bloom the Chaste Tree is an excellent companion and fine replacement for Crepe Myrtles. However, Vitex specimens are curiously less common in Carolina landscapes. This lack is unjust. In recent years, new cultivars and varieties, many of which have been bred in the U.S. have been increasing in number and availability. Some of the more readily available cultivars include:

‘Montrose Purple’,Shoal Creek’, ‘Silver Spire’ and ‘Alba’.

Blooms occur in large clusters that entirely cover the plant. Some liken the blooms to those of a butterfly bush, but larger and fuller. Colors include purple, violet-blue, lilac, pink and white. The Chaste Tree is extremely easy to grow. It will thrive in almost any soil type (except boggy) as long as it receives 6 or more hours of sun. It is extremely drought tolerant. In most cases, it will not require any supplemental watering once established. Flowering can be prolonged and increased by removal of spent flower clusters during the growth season. However, pruning is not necessary. Left to its own devices, Vitex will bloom in a large flush mid-summer then intermittently into early autumn. After flowering, it will produce small, round pea-sized seed pods that dry and blacken with age.

Vitex Sited appropriately, Vitex is almost completely worry free in the Carolinas. There are no known pests or diseases that affect it to any degree. The leaves are somewhat aromatic as well as the flowers, usually featuring the herbal/floral aroma common to plants in the Verbena family. Additionally, it is a magnet plant for pollinators. Bees and butterflies will flock to it when in bloom. Some songbird bird species appreciate the small, berry- like seed pods.

Season of Bloom
Late Spring/Early Summer
Mid Summer
Late Summer/Early Fall
Height
10-15 feet tall
Hardiness USDA
USDA Zone 6a to 9b
Flower Color
purple, violet-blue, lilac, pink and white.
Exposure
lsun to partial shade
Propagation
semi-hardwood cuttings
seed; direct sow outdoors in fall
From seed; direct sow after last frost
By simple layering.


Lynn Cochran contributor of this information.