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Dodonaea viscosa Varnish Leaf, Hopbush

Edward F. Gilman


The shiny green leaves of this shrub have a varnished appearance that gives this plant its most widely used common name. The varnish leaf is a fast growing, broad-leaved, evergreen shrub that can grow 10- to 15-feet tall. It is most commonly seen at about 6- to 10-feet tall. The "varnished" leaves of this plant have a resinous coating that is a protection against water loss, and this allows the plants to be exceptionally drought tolerant. Leaves vary in shape from spatulate to elliptic or obovate. Margins of the leaves are often turned under. Greenish yellow flowers are without true petals and appear in terminal clusters that are 3 inches in length. This shrub blooms in the spring and fall, and flowers on the same plant may be male, female, or perfect. The most outstanding part of this plant is the pendent fruit. These emerge green, turn yellow green, then pink and red, and then brown as they mature. The three-parted seed pods have 3 or 4 rounded wings.

General Information

Scientific name: Dodonaea viscosa
Pronunciation: doe-DOE-nee-uh viss-KOE-suh
Common name(s): varnish leaf, hopbush
Family: Sapindaceae
Plant type: tree
USDA hardiness zones: 9 through 11 (Figure 1)
Planting month for zone 9: year round
Planting month for zone 10 and 11: year round
Origin: native to Florida
Uses: specimen; espalier; small parking lot islands (< 100 square feet in size); medium-sized parking lot islands (100-200 square feet in size); large parking lot islands (> 200 square feet in size); screen
Availability: grown in small quantities by a small number of nurseries
Figure 1. Shaded area represents potential planting range.
Figure 1.  Shaded area represents potential planting range.



Height: 10 to 15 feet
Spread: 6 to 15 feet
Plant habit: oval
Plant density: symmetrical habit with a regular (or smooth) outline and individuals having more or less identical forms
Growth rate: moderate
Texture: fine


Leaf arrangement: alternate
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: oblanceolate; obovate; spatulate
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen
Leaf blade length: 4 to 8 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: no fall color change
Fall characteristic: not showy


Flower color: yellow
Flower characteristic: summer flowering; fall flowering; spring flowering


Fruit shape: pod or pod-like
Fruit length: .5 to 1 inch
Fruit cover: dry or hard
Fruit color: green; red; yellow
Fruit characteristic: showy

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: typically multi-trunked or clumping stems; can be trained to grow with a short, single trunk; no horns
Current year stem/twig color: green
Current year stem/twig thickness: thin


Light requirement: plant grows in full sun
Soil tolerances: acidic; alkaline; sand; loam
Drought tolerance: high
Soil salt tolerances: unknown
Plant spacing: not applicable


Roots: usually not a problem
Winter interest: no special winter interest
Outstanding plant: plant has outstanding ornamental features and could be planted more
Invasive potential: not known to be invasive
Pest resistance: no serious pests are normally seen on the plant

Use and Management

One may use varnish leaf as a specimen due to its nice fruit display. The plant is also attractive when it is not in fruit. Planted 5 to 8 feet apart, varnish leaf makes a nice hedge or background plant, and it is very effective when employed as a screen. It is can also be grown in fence rows and is interesting when espaliered. It is a useful plant that is underutilized.

Dodonaea viscosa will tolerate dry sandy or rocky soils, salt spray, windy areas, and drought conditions. It favors areas that receive full sun and is often cultivated in loamy or sandy soils.

Dodonaea viscosa 'Purpurea' has been called the most popular cultivar of the Dodonaea genus. It is currently most popular in the western U.S. Seedlings can vary a lot in color, and purple-leafed varieties will turn green in full shade. It has a wide tolerance for different soils, winds, and heat, when established, will be drought-resistant. The plant is used in landscapes in the western United States.

Pests and Diseases

No pests or diseases are of major concern.

Publication #FPS181

Date: 5/26/2015


    • Critical Issue: Agricultural and Food Systems
    Organism ID

    About this Publication

    This document is FPS181, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 1999. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.

    About the Authors

    Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


    • Gail Hansen de Chapman