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Plants from the Ground Up

Stewartia pseudocamellia – A four-season beauty

There are few trees that match the grace and beauty of Stewartia pseudocamellia. Known in Japan as ‘natsu tsubaki’ or ‘summer camellia’, the Japanese Stewartia has wonderful year-round appeal. Spring brings dark-green 2-3 inch long elliptical leaves which have very finely serrated edges. The leaves are alternately arranged along the stems. From June until August the beautiful camellia-like flowers make their appearance. The large blooms consist of five-petaled white cups with showy golden-rod colored anthers. Each flower is short lived, but the tree puts on many flowers that open continuously for weeks.

Stewartia pseudocamellia- Flower

The flowers become a brown seed capsule that is persistent, although not really showy. The seeds rarely sprout so invasiveness is not an issue.  Autumn brings a superb show when the leaves turn from butter-yellow to pink to burgundy-red.

Stewartia pseudocamellia - Fall color    Stewartia pseudocamellia- Fall color

Even in winter these trees add interest with their pretty exfoliating bark; brown bark becomes a patchwork of brown, gray, tan and cream. These small trees ranging from 20-40 feet are usually multi-stemmed (though they can be trained to have a single trunk if desired), or they can be held at a 12 foot shrub with proper pruning.

Stewartia pseudocamellia- Bark    Stewartia pseudocamellia - Bark

Stewartia pseudocamellia is native to Japan and Korea and is in the Theaceae family. Stewartia is related Camellia sinensis which is the tea of commerce (see my blog post Grow your own tea! Camellia sinensis to learn more). The genus Stewartia was named in 1753 and was intended to honor John Stuart (a Scottish nobleman and botanist), however Linnaeus misspelled Stuart as Stewart which has led to a mild controversy over the spelling that will likely never be resolved! Japanese Stewartia grows best in soils that are rich in organic material and kept evenly moist. Stewartia are not drought-tolerant trees. Usually grown in full sun these trees may require some afternoon shade in very hot regions. Japanese Stewartia are cold hardy to USDA Zone 5. Propagation is done by seed or cuttings though both techniques yield few seedlings.

For more photos and information, see Stewartia at the Forestfarm Store.




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