With showy flowers, beautiful bark and a hankering for shade, these all-season trees will fit in any garden.
IF I WERE to name my five favorite trees, Stewartia definitely would be one of them.
These camellia relatives hail from Japan, Korea, China and the Southeast United States. Stewartia varieties grow to various heights, making it possible to find one for any size garden.
Stewartias are appealing in every season. In spring, new leaves emerge rosy-pink. Most species bloom later in the season, well after the blossoms of spring-flowering trees have faded, filling the void with a profuse, long-lasting display of showy flowers.
In late summer, the leaves turn gorgeous fall colors, and some species have colorful, flaky bark that adds beauty and interest in the winter landscape. Stewartias are a great choice for a woodsy garden. They’re one of the few trees that thrive and bloom reliably in a shady location.
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Most Stewartias are hardy to about minus-20 degrees. They do best in partial shade, although they can thrive in full sun as long as they’re given adequate water and located away from blazing reflected sunshine.
Stewartias prefer slightly acid, well-drained loamy soil rich in organic matter. Give the location of your Stewartia a lot of thought before you plant it. As is true of all members of the camellia family, Stewartias are almost impossible to move successfully once they become established.
By far, the most popular variety is Stewartia pseudocamellia (Japanese Stewartia). This highly attractive, slow-growing tree can eventually reach 40 feet tall by 30 feet wide.
Among its attributes is stunningly beautiful exfoliating bark that peels off to reveal kaleidoscopic patches of gray, orange and reddish-brown. The profuse, silky white, 3-inch-wide camellia-like flowers that come out in June are centered with showy orange anthers. Bright orange-red fall color is among the best in the genus.
A Stewartia guaranteed to cheer up the winter garden is Stewartia monadelpha. The common name is Tall Stewartia, but it rarely exceeds 25 feet and stays quite narrow. Its bark is such a glowing shade of cinnamon-orange, it can brighten even the dreariest rainy day. The white flowers with yellow stamens bloom in June and are about 1½ inches wide. In autumn, the leaves turn brilliant rose- and purple-red.
A real gem for the small garden is a selected form of our U.S. native Stewartia ovata (Mountain Stewartia). Stewartia ovata ‘Grandiflora’ reaches only about 15 feet tall and wide. The slightly flaking grayish-orange bark isn’t all that showy, but fall color can vary from shades of purple, yellow and orange-red.
What makes this tree stand out, however, is the gorgeous blossom display. The word “grandiflora” means “big flowers,” and these beautiful white blossoms can reach 4 inches wide, centered with purple stamens. Also, unlike most other Stewartias that bloom in June, the flowering display on this tree occurs in July and August.
If you’re into rare plants, keep an eye out for Stewartia x ‘Scarlet Sentinel’. This hybrid was discovered as a chance seedling that came up on the grounds of the Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts.
It turned out to be a cross between a Stewartia ovata ‘Grandiflora’ and Stewartia pseudocamellia that happened to be growing next to each other.
Stewartia x ‘Scarlet Sentinel’ is expected to grow to about 30 feet tall and 10 feet wide, and evidently inherited the best attribute from each parent. It has the exfoliating bark and spectacular fall color of Stewartia pseudocamellia, but it sports the big white, midsummer flowers of Stewartia ovata ‘Grandiflora’.
It did, however, gain one special attribute of its own. The stamens in the center of the white blossoms are a gorgeous shade of scarlet. Sorry, all you plant nerds, but this hybrid is so new, it is available at only a few nurseries and doesn’t even seem available online. If you want to be among the first to get one, ask your local nursery to order it for you. Of course, you’ll be second in line after me!