hot plant: stewartia, an ideal small tree
I LIKE PLANTS THAT EARN THEIR KEEP. By that I mean they do more than a week or two of showing off; they look good in more than a single moment, or season. The small-ish to medium trees in the genus Stewartia are a good bet if that’s the kind of multi-season interest you are looking for. Sound good?
The Latin specific epithet, or species name, of the Stewartia I grow is pseudocamellia, which roughly means it disguises itself as a camellia when in bloom (a nod to the look of its lovely and plentiful white June-into-July flowers, and the fact they are very distant relatives in the Tea Family).
But this Stewartia, from Japan, which gets to maybe 25 feet or so in a Northeast garden setting and is happy in part shade or sun, isn’t content to offer up just nice flowers for the privilege of living with you. It gives you peeling, lovely bark all season long (below), and hot fall color, too, as the leaves eventually change. I should warn that it grows slowly, so this is an investment piece, not instant success, and adaptable to Zones 5-8.
I like my stewartias to be multi-stem and breaking low from the base, instead of single-trunk, but such aesthetic considerations are up to you. A bigger cousin is S. monadelpha, also from Japan; S. koreana (from where it sounds like it’s from) is another showy choice, with orange bark.
What I insist is that you at least agree to look at Stewartia next time you’re in a good woody plant nursery and think of this: What other garden-scale tree gives summer flowers (preceded by showy marble-size buds, bottom photo, by the way, in my pseudocamellia); hot fall foliage, plus winter interest in the form of textural bark and lovely structure?
Guess after reading this you already know the answer to today’s quiz, huh?