If I had to choose my most favorite tree for the Northwest, it would be a Stewartia. They have beautiful white blossoms and interesting bark and bold fall color. They grow in a tidy behaved way. Plus, their leaves are stately, their branches, delicate. I can’t say enough positive things about this lovely tree. It grows in a V-shape, putting on a few inches of new growth every year but rarely needing to be pruned.
Japanese Stewartia: A False Camellia
I have three Stewartias in my garden: Tall Stewartia (S. monadelpha), Upright Stewartia (S. rostrata), and Japanese Stewartia (S. pseudocamellia). I’ve planted them along my driveway so that when I arrive home in autumn, three brilliantly colored trees greet me. Lately, I’ve been feeling most affection for my Japanese Stewartia. This cultivar grows to about 25 feet tall but only about 10 feet wide. In June, white flowers bloom, resembling camellia flowers (hence the name “pseudocamellia”), and emit a spicy fragrance. In fall, the leaves burn with a reddish orange color. Then there’s the groovy tan and gray bark. It’s mottled throughout the year.
Stewartias like sun but they don’t really like to bake in it like say, a Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia) or Silk Tree (Albizia). They like a part-shade situation though they can take hot sun in the afternoon if they’re shaded in the morning. When they’re planted in well-draining soil, they grow well. They usually need a bit of supplemental water during extreme drought. They’re virtually disease-free. Pruning’s only occasionally needed to take out dead, twiggy branches. All in all, with a bit of care, you can simply plant this tree in decent soil and watch it put on a year-round show.
Right now, my Japanese Stewartia is doing what I love it for best. Darkening into rich fall color. I cherish this time of year as I get in and out of my car. My little tree is there, blessing October. In a few weeks, its leaves will have completely fallen and the delicate branch structure will reveal itself. I have to resist the urge to pull off the strips of gray bark. Later, when March rolls around, the elegant leaves will emerge again and the whole pretty process begins anew.
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