Paul’s Plant Pick: Heptacodium miconioides (Seven Son Plant)

By | Paul's Plant Picks, Shrubs, Trees & Vines | Tags: , , | September 16, 2012 | 3 comments

This is very special garden specimen (aka Seven Son Flower) that although in cultivation after its discovery in 1907, is sadly very rare in its native environment of central China. Habit loss continues to threaten the remaining limited wild populations.

I consider Heptacodium to be a quick growing, multi-stemmed, large shrub that develops a vase-shaped habit and grows to three metres in height or taller.  From my observations, the plant seems very adaptable and is able to grow in a wide range of soil conditions, in both full sun to part shade.  I was initially attracted to its thin, tan-colured exfoliating bark, which provides wonderful interest in the garden during our often long Canadian winters.  Another bonus is the surprisingly late — and long — bloom period.  From the end of summer to fall the growing tips give rise to dense white clusters of sweetly scented blossoms.  Just yummy! I recently discovered the clusters of bloom are also suitable for cutting and bringing indoors.  Depending on the length of the season, the fading flowers may be followed by a show of red fruit and calyes.  Personally, I have not witnessed this second blaze of glory on my home specimen in the five years that I have been growing it. However, my number one reason for growing Heptacodium has to be for the great lure the nectar-rich flowers are to both butterflies and bees. I am often astonished by the fall feeding frenzy. What a wonderful feeling it is to have plants in the garden that not only have multiple seasons of interest,  but are also beneficial to so many garden guests.

Last year a young specimen was planted in the new pollinator garden, where our honeybees can also be observed building up food reserves to get them through the winter.  You can look out and see the shrub in flower from the Weston Family Library, or the upper link leading into the Moriyama Foyer.

 

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Paul Zammit about the author: Paul Zammit

Paul Zammit is the Nancy Eaton Director of Horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Garden. A graduate of the University of Guelph, Paul was formerly employed at Plant World, a large retail garden centre where he was the perennial department manager. He is a regular speaker at garden clubs and horticultural trade shows across Canada and in the United States. He has appeared both on television and in print.

  • Beckie Fox

    I’ve had this tree for about five years in a very shady area of our garden where it blooms quite well. Its graceful, loose form mixes well with witch hazel, hellebores, hydrangeas, pulmonarias and primulas. Good to see it highlighted here. I’m going outdoors right now to bring in a flowering sprig for my desk!

  • Jennifer Arnott

    I’m so happy to see this great plant as one of your picks!

    You mention it “grows to three metres in height or taller…” I know this is what the plant tags all say but I planted one in my back yard in 2003 (hauled it home in the back of my little Toyota) and it is now taller than our house (so that puts it at 20+ feet). And ours is smaller than the specimen we saw at the New York Botanical Garden in 2010–it was probably getting close to 30′

    It’s not tiny, but with the peeling bark, bee-utiful flowers in fall, and the novelty (this is the plant everyone visiting your garden will ask “Wow! What’s that?!”) it’s worth the space!

  • Aldona

    In response to Jennifer’s comment–the late Chris Graham once told me the expected height of this plant was a bit unpredictable because it hadn’t been properly tracked over that long term. This makes sense, if you consider its native stands are so rare. He also said it had good fall colour, but this too seems iffy. What are your opinions on this?

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