A Gardening Journal

Seven-Son Tree in Bloom

September is a miracle month for any woody plant just entering into bloom. Not still flowering since July and August (take that, Rose of Sharon), nor drying-gracefully-in-place since June (take that, hydrangeas). I mean fresh-as-a-daisy flowering, with just-now-getting-up-on-the-horse-for-that-first-trot-around-the-track-in-September blooms. Like, say, this singular species of ornamental tree from Asia, the seven-son tree.

 

Heptacodium miconioides upper wands 091117 640

 

The flowers are sparkly white, fragrant, and in large clusters that seem to tip every stem. And, in New England at least, they truly are at their peak in September. The young wands of Heptacodium miconioides that support the flower clusters can be four feet and longer by the time buds begin forming in August. Those in these pictures are the result of season-long free-range growth, but I'll experiment with cutting this tree back in late winter. Next summer, this will show how successful flower production will be at the tips of new growth that is, typically in response to such radical pruning, even more vigorous and lengthy.

 

Heptacodium miconioides lower wands 091117 640

 

Would flowering be delayed? That wouldn't be ideal, in that the September floral display still leaves October for a follow-on display after the flowers are done. If flowering itself didn't start until early October, that second phase might be caught by frost.

 

Even so, the flowers alone make heptacodium worth growing.

 

Heptacodium miconioides flowers 091117 640

 

Although tiny, there are thousands of them on a mature tree. As in the picture below, they are graceful and full of detail in close-up.

 

Heptacodium miconioides flowers closer 091117 640

 

With pink pedecils and (if you really look closely) pink immature anthers, there's an opportunity to combine heptacodium with other late-season pinks. And, as we'll see in my October post on this tree, the follow-on display is entirely about pink.

 

For years, the common name of Seven Son Tree seemed a puzzle. Heptacodium is native to China so, presumably, there's a metaphorical flavor to the name—but what? The noted horticulturalist Gary Koller suggested this: notice that, for the final foot or so of a young stem, a cluster of flowers emerges from right in front of each leaf. Although not photographically evident in the shot below, trust me that there are often six ranks of such projecting clusters.

 

Heptacodium miconioides 091317 raceme from side 640

 

The clusters become smaller the closer they are to the very tip of the stem. The clusters of the sixth pair are the smallest, and after that...

 

Heptacodium miconioides 091317 raceme tip from side 640

 

...only a single flower is formed.

 

Heptacodium miconioides 091317 seventh son overall 640

 

This lone final blossom, then, is the seventh "son" in the series. More grammatically, then, this tree's common name should be seventh-son tree.

 

Heptacodium miconioides 091317 seventh son cropped 640

 

 

I'll provide a full profile of Heptacodium miconioides in October, when the flowers' follow-on display is at its peak.

 

 
 
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