June 12, 2010

Shattered Hopes

I knew we'd get rain this weekend, because flower buds are opening on my Stewartia pseudocamellia.  They are extraordinary blooms, camellia-like, as the Latin name says, and they come out all over this pretty tree in June and July.

Except mine don't last more than a few days because we always get a downpour when they are blooming and the fat buds and weighty blossoms are knocked off the tree.  Always, without fail.  We could be in a deep drought, with no rain for weeks and no precipitation in the forecast for the whole northeast, and we will get a windy downpour the week the Stewartia flowers want to open.

My Stewartia is planted right by the front door where I can see it and admire it.  And there is so much to admire.  The flowers are the big draw.  If it stays dry and they hold on, they look like this, like big fried eggs:
 open flower and bark photos from MoBot's files
The mottled bark is interesting, although people who arrive at my front door sometimes ask "is it supposed to look like that?"

It's a narrow tree, perfect for the side of the house where it adds height in a nice pyramid shape, without much spread.  Mine is a very young tree, planted as a 12 inch stick from a one gallon container in fall 2006, and it is still gangly, with a silly twisted top, but it will straighten up.  The bark is just beginning to show its mottled pattern.

The fall color is astonishing.  I can't describe how pulsating red this gets.  My camera kind of imploded when I took this photo in direct morning sun last fall, and it would not even pick up the leaf distinctions, just a blur of shimmery red orange.

It's noted as slow growing, but I'm finding it to be a fast grower, although a little goofy shaped right now.  It likes the due east exposure I gave it, with the house for shade in the afternoon.

It's June now, the fat buds are forming, and yes, it is raining.  Of course it is.  The bee wants to get out of the rain and is happy upside down in his little umbrella shelter, in one of the few blossoms that is hanging on.  Most of the flowers litter the soggy mulch at the foot of the tree.

I wish it would hang on to its flowers.

It's such a great tree --- small and neat, with a dapper form, eye blinding red fall color, crazy looking bark --- that each year I forgive it, and have resigned myself to enjoying a few hopeful buds against a gray rainy sky, and creamy white blooms shattered on the wet ground.

Every spring those shattered blooms dash my hopes, but I still love this tree.


  1. I don't believe I have ever heard of this tree before. It is a beauty. I hope your blooms aren't ruined this year. They are pretty little things.

  2. What a sweet tree. It needs an umbrella! :)

  3. Dear Laurrie, What a remarkable tree and how very disappointing for you that the blooms are always badly affected by rain. Notwithstanding that, I should love to grow it for, not least, that splendid bark in a mature specimen. Is it, by any chance, happiest in acidic soil?

  4. Lisa, surprisingly very few people have heard of Stewartia. It's beautiful but very hard to propagate so nurseries don't like to carry it.

    Garden Ms. S, that's a thought... it's small enough I could put a big umbrella over it!

    Edith, it likes moist, rich soil and afternoon shade in my climate (US zone 5) but it is not particular about acid soil. A range either side of neutral will suit it. I hope you try planting one.

  5. The Stewartia at Mount Auburn Cemetery (Cambridge, MA) are on the same schedule as yours. I didn't realize it was blooming last Friday until I saw the wet flowers that had fallen on the ground. It's a really big tree and there are still lots of buds to go. Maybe next week will be drier.

  6. Such an interesting tree. I've heard of it before but didn't know much about it. Such a shame the rain pummels it so.

  7. Curtis, so sad that you notice a tree's flowers by the soggy blooms on the ground! That mature specimen must be a great sight.

    Jean, thanks for stopping by to visit my tree!

  8. How frustrating, Laurrie, that the tree won't resist a little rain! It sounds almost as if it's been overbred or something -- and yet it's so lovely we can't help "rooting" for it. :)

    What about an awning, since it is near the door? They even sell retractable awnings now. (Altho that's probably a bit of an expenditure for a few blossoms.)

  9. Meredith, I had to laugh about the retractable awning, because I have a whole post in mind describing the debacle when my husband and I installed one (ourselves) for shade on our deck. Disaster! My poor Stewartia is going to have to fend for herself I guess.

  10. Laurrie, I live in Seattle & will be purchasing a Japanese Stewartia this weekend. It will replace the 3 aspens whose suckers are taking over the yard! I love the bark of the Stewartia but see very few of these trees in our area. I saw one at a nursery with a crook in the middle of its trunk. Do you think this would straighten out over the years?



  11. Anonymous, the crook in the trunk won't straighten out as the tree grows, but it will add some character and interest. Stewartia is a structured, kind of "architectural" shaped tree, and the crook is part of its charm I think!


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