Stewartia Trees that Fare Well in New England Gardens
Native and Non-Native Stewartia Trees Suitable for New England
Many may be familiar with the stately looking sycamore trees with eye-catching exfoliating bark. Just take a slow drive down Memorial Drive at Harvard University and you will be convinced of the timeless elegance of this (exfoliating bark) characteristic.
However, there is group of native and non-native Stewartia trees that turn heads even quicker, and these are now readily available for your home garden (but not at box stores yet). Be warned, Stewartia trees are not for the gardener who strives for instant glory. These trees, unlike the aformentioned Sycamore, are very slow growing. They also carry a larger price tag. I would recommend purchasing something bigger than a twig if you want something impressive in your lifetime; a 1o’ specimen goes for around $200.
Stewartia trees have a low-branching characteristic that begs for climbing, and are often multi-trunked to resemble a “recklessly-bolted” shrub. More trunks means more exfoliating bark! If that’s not enough to grab your interest, these Stewartia generously show beautiful saucer-shape (i.e. open flat) flowers with yellow centers, which are equally appealing as they litter the ground during their late spring/early summer blooming period (or late June/early July). They are often times compared to Camellia-type flowers, and the petals are creamy-white in color (or “colour” for you Maritimers). Fall foliage is also nothing short of spectacular with bright red and yellow leaves complimenting the amazing bark. It should go without saying that Stewartia trees are the ideal all-season performers.
Stewartia trees reach around 30 – 40 feet in height, and spread around 25 – 30 feet wide (in a twisted, sweeping manner). They can handle part shade, and are good for zones 5B through 7B. We recommend planting in a very visible location if you want passersbys to make comment, or for you to enjoy within an outdoor space (e.g. off deck, patio, side of driveway, etc.). Stewartia trees deservingly should stand front and center, and can really improve real estate in a section of your yard.
Our recommendation? We MAY prefer the Japanese Stewartia with it’s very contrasting colors associated with the exfoliating bark (think desert camouflage). This species is the most commonly found at garden centers (from our experience). The Tall Stewartia may be more unique with it’s cinnamon-colored bark, but flowers are smaller. The Korean Stewartia is similar to the Japanese Stewartia, but the contrasting bark colors are less subtle (i.e. more beige tones). You can’t go wrong with any of these selections is our final thought.
We aplogize to many maritimers that may not have success with this species in colder climates. We are always excited to hear from “zone pushers” in our comment section below, especially those that are as daring to experiment with such an expensive specimen.
(Eastern United States Native)