Florida Hopbush

Florida Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa) not only grows wild in the canyons and mountain foothills here in the Sonoran Desert, this evergreen, drought-tolerant shrub is also a fairly common landscaping choice for edging low-water-use gardens. Florida Hopbushes can grow up to 15 feet (4.6 m) tall in favorable locations, but most remain more shrub-sized.

Florida Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa) in Tucson, Arizona's Sabino Canyon

When water is scarce, Florida Hopbushes can look a bit ratty, with smaller, sparser, brown-tipped leaves, but with a little extra water, their leaves are a healthy dark green and the plants will flower more heavily. I spotted this healthy, but rather gnarled Florida Hopbush above growing wild in Tucson, Arizona's Sabino Canyon in April of 2005.

Florida Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa) fruits

What might appear to be showy masses of often pink-tinged, lime green flowers on Florida Hopbushes are actually their distinctive 3-winged, 3-seeded fruits. The small, greenish to yellowish flowers are actually fairly inconspicuous. Like the winged fruits, the leaves are also attractive (if the plants have enough water), and they are alternate, linear, spatulate, obovate, or narrowly lanceolate in shape, and a shiny, almost varnished-looking dark green.

Despite some similarity in appearance to hops, Florida Hopbushes do not make the best beer… Unless of course you like your beer somewhat bitter, soapy, and a bit toxic. Florida Hopbushes contain saponins, which can be used to make soap and can be toxic in higher amounts. Despite their saponins, Florida Hopbushes have a number of traditional medicinal uses, and their leaves can be used as an astringent or reportedly chewed as a stimulant like Coca leaves (this is probably not wise given their toxic saponin content).