Plants

Dittany, Burning Bush

Dictamnus albus

Ulrike Hanninger Ulrike Hanninger

The volatile oils in Dictamnus albus don’t just give this shrub its beautiful lemony aroma, they can also catch fire in hot conditions. If that doesn’t scare you off, you’ll find everything you need to know about planting and caring for this unusual flowering plant here.

Growth type
  • Perennial plant
  • rhizome
Growth height (from)
from 60.00cm to 100.00cm
Growth width (from)
from 0.00cm to 0.00cm
Growth characteristics
  • horst-forming
Flower color
  • white
Flowering time (month)
  • June to July
Flower shape
  • terminal
  • Cluster
Leaf color
  • green
page format
  • feathered
Fruit shape
  • Capsule
Light
  • sunny
Soil type
  • loamy
Soil Moisture
  • dry to moderately dry
ph value
  • alkaline to weakly acidic
Lime compatibility
  • lime-loving
Nutrient requirements
  • moderately nutritious
Decorative or utility value
  • Flower Decoration
  • picturesque growth
Toxicity
  • non-toxic
Winter Hardness
  • hardy
Use
  • Flowerbeds
  • Embankments
  • Underplanting
Garden style
  • Flower garden
  • Prairie Garden
  • Forest Garden

Origin

Dictamnus albus (ditanny, burning bush) is the only species in the Dictamnus genus. Botanically, this shrub is part of the rue family (Rutaceae). Dittany’s natural habitat stretches from southern Europe to China and Korea. In central Europe, this burning bush is found growing wild in groups on limey, grassy scrubland or in neighboring pine woodland. It can also often be found on sunny hills or in sparse clumps of shrubs. Dittany is not a common garden shrub. This is due to its location needs on one hand, and due to the difficulties of propagation on the other. If you persevere, you will be rewarded with cute flowers and a tangy lemon scent that emanates from this plant on sunny days especially. Its nickname “burning bush” is thanks to the scented, volatile essential oil contained in its flowers and fruit. You can even ignite it without injuring the plant (as long as there is no wind). This is rarely successful outside a lab, so is not really advisable. In very hot weather, it does sometimes ignite spontaneously, puffing out blue flames. This oil sadly also causes painful skin irritation in sensitive people on contact: the reaction forms burn-like blisters that remain visible for a long period of time. This photodermatitis is triggered when the affected areas are exposed to UV rays. Apart from this, all parts of the dittany plant are weakly toxic.

Growth

When the conditions are right, dittany proves itself a long-living shrub that gets more and more beautiful each passing year. The stems on which the cute flowers form can grow to between 31 and 39 inches tall. The base of the stem grows woody. The characteristic spiced aroma is noticeable on all parts of the plant.

Leaves

The green leaves of the burning bush grow alternately and are odd-pinnate. They are ovate to lanceolate and feature very weak, tiny black dots on the lamina.

Flowers

Dittany’s attractive pink flowers are zygomorphic, i.e. made up of two perfectly symmetrical halves. They appear from June to July in singular clusters.

Burning bush flowers

Clear to see: purple veins on the petals

Fruit

After flowering, the burning bush forms star-shaped capsule fruits consisting of five chambers, each with two to three small black seeds inside. As soon as they are ripe, they are catapulted from the inside. The fruit remains on the shrub until fall, and are commonly dried for use as for seasonal decorations in winter.

Location

In the garden, full sun and a very warm, dry location in a bed are perfect for dittany.

Soil

The burning bush can be very long-lasting and resilient in limey, mineral, moderately nutrient-rich and permeable soil.

Planting

To be on the safe side, we recommend wearing gloves when planning this scented shrub. Four plants can be planted in ten square feet, keeping 19 inches between each plant. Once dittany has grown in, which can take a while, it should not be moved.

Dittany seed capsules

Choose your location carefully! Not just because dittany will have to stay there for a long time, but also because it’s an interesting talking point in any garden. Visible here: the star-shaped fruit

Care

If the conditions are right, you will not need to provide the burning bush with further care. It should only be watered by hand in long periods of drought. Make sure to water the soil, not the leaves. After a few years, you can add a little compost.

Dividing

It is possible to divide the rootstock, but not advisable. The parent plant generally doesn’t recover.

Use

As already mentioned, dittany is an attractive plant for sunny beds and borders. Ideal companion plants include other shrubs, like iris or hellebore. This scented plant is also suitable for prairie gardens – accompanied with prairie shrubs and decorative grasses.

“Albiflorus”

“Albiflorus” has white flowers that create a glorious contrast to the green foliage

The best-known and perhaps the most attractive dittany available is Dictamnus albus “Albiflorus”, which adds a touch of elegance to any bed with its bright white flowers. The flowers of “Purpureus” are a somewhat deeper pink than others of this species. The variety Dictamnus albus var. caucasicus is similar but slightly bigger.

Propagation

The burning bush spreads naturally in fall through the distribution of seeds. To get to the seeds, cut off some stems and remove the seeds from the capsule fruit. Sensitive gardeners should wear gloves to do so. It’s best to sow these light-germinating seeds into the bed soon after. If you store them for a while, they will need additional cold triggering to germinate. Dittany seedlings need a good three to four years until they flower and may even need 18 months to germinate.

Diseases and Pests

Dittany rarely falls foul to any disease or pests. Slugs and snails can be a disaster, especially for young plants.

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