Some people buy trees for their cheery blooms or bold fall color or cool, winter bark. Sometimes fragrance. Rarely does a tree have all of these features, but stewartias do. In fact, not only do they have such traits, they also have lovely, tidy forms. Lately, my favorite has been Stewartia pseudocamellia. (Though I also love S. monodelpha in particular.) Stewartia pseudocamellia has a behaved crown, amazing orange and red color in autumn, white, fragrant flowers in June, and groovy, peely bark. The patterns of its branches can be zig-zaggy or a classic V shape.
Stewartias like sun but they don’t really like to bake in it like say, a Lagerstroemia or Albizia. They like a part-shade situation though they can take hot sun in the afternoon if they’re shaded during the morning. When they’re planted in well-draining soil, they grow and are happy. They do get tall, can be up to 25 feet, but they don’t spread wide. Rarely do they catch a disease. Pruning’s only sometimes needed to take out dead, twiggy branches. In summer, new plants need water but not much to produce their sweetly scented, camellia-shaped flowers. All in all, with a little care, you can simply plant a stewartia in decent soil and watch it put on a year-round show.
Right now, my stewartia is doing what I love it for best. Darkening into rich magenta and orange color. I cherish this time of year as I get in and out of my car and my baby 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 grayish, flecky bark. Later, when March rolls around, those slightly corrugated leaves will emerge again and the whole pretty process will begin anew.