Tree of the moment: Stewartia

Saw this Stewartia pseudocamellia growing in the Chihuly Garden in Seattle, a tree I hadn’t come across before but catching my attention with its pretty flowers.

Stewartia pseudocamellia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

As you can tell by the tree’s name and the photo, when in flower it looks like a camellia and is, apparently, related to the tea camellia.

The foliage emerges bronzy purple in spring, develops into a dark green by summer, and turns red or orange in autumn. The white camellia-like flowers come in summer, though the tree is noted for successive flowering rather than one big display.

Another attractive attribute of this tree is its bark which exfoliates year round in strips of gray, orange, and reddish brown.

The tree eventually reaches up to 13m tall and 7m wide and prefers moist, acidic, well-drained soil in full morning sun or partial shade. It apparently does not do well in areas where night temperatures remain high.

There are other members in the Stewartia family, read more about them here. Most are native to East Asia, but there are some native to the southeasterrn US.

Stewartia monadelpha pictured in the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver (Canada). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Stewartia monadelpha has the common name orangebark tree (you can guess why),  has smaller flowers than S. pseudocamellia, and doesn’t like being pruned. However, it is believed to be more heat tolerant.

The genus was named in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus to honour John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-92), a Scottish nobleman who was Prime Minister of Great Britain for a year from 1762 (and not a very good one, by all accounts!).

John Stuart was a tutor to George, Prince of Wales (later George III), and his brother Prince Edward, and had a lifelong interest in botany, culminating in the publication of Botanical Tables Containing the Families of British Plants in 1785.

Owing to an error, the name emanated from Linnaeus as ‘Stewart’ and although it used to be more commonly ‘Stuartia’, the name is now officially recognised as ‘Stewartia’.

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