Aaron Zych is one of our most opinionated employees when it comes to plants. As a landscape architect and a certified arborist he certainly has the qualifications, but he also has a deep rooted affinity for all things relating to nature.
Humulus lupulus is by far one of my favorite, if not the favorite, plants that can be grown in this area. The flowers are what makes this plant so special and the reason this plant is in such great demand. Although used in many various ways, including consumption by many people, very little is actually known about the growth habits of this wonderful plant by the casual gardener.
A cold hardy perennial, this plant loves to climb. If left unchecked, in full sun, the plant will easily get 19’-20’ tall. By Botany standards this plant is known as a Bine (grows with its own shoots wrapping around a support) rather than a vine (grows by using tendrils or suckers to help it climb). What helps the plant grow to these heights is the very deep root system it produces (5’-6’ deep with an equal spread), but also has an extensive network of shallow feeding roots. The flowers (also called seed cones or strobiles) bloom in late summer/ early fall and are dioecious (meaning the flower is either male or female) so male and female plant must be grown together. The flower is a neutral nondescript green color and is not very showy at all. So why do I love the flower on this plant so much you ask? This plant is better known as ‘The hop’ plant, which is used in the flavoring and preserving of beer.
As an avid homebrewer, I know this plant by many of its cultivars: Citra, Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe and Goldings to name just a few. Each cultivar produces a flower (hop) that is different in its Aroma and bitterness and are used in various combinations by the over 3000 microbreweries in the United States. One of the closest Hop Farms is Hop Head Farms in Hickory Corners Michigan. Besides flavoring, hops are a great preservative. It is this preserving quality that we get the now famous IPA (India Pale Ale) genre of beer. With the demand for beer in the British empires to the east in the 1700’s (and it being too hot to brew beer in India) there needed to be a beer that could survive the grueling six month journey from Britain to India. It was around 1780, that a brewer called Hodgson, heavily hopped a beer and sent it on its way. It made the journey to India and the IPA was born. That is the reason IPA’s are always much heavier hopped than other beers.
Although a great plant with a great history, I have personally decided to leave the growing of this wondering plant to the experts. The main reason is the lack of a 20’ tall trellis anywhere around my house and the sure terror that the sight of this aggressive bine might cause my neighbors.