2017-07-19 / Gardening Tips

Uncommon Flowering Trees and Shrubs Part 2

— By Bob Beyfuss

I previously wrote about some uncommon flowering trees, some that are suitable to plant beneath overhead power lines. One of my pet peeves is seeing tall tree species planted directly beneath power or telephone lines. In many cases the offender is a town or village highway department that has received a grant for street tree plantings. Every town, village or city that plants roadside trees need to have some sort of expert advice on not only where to plant, but what species to plant. This would save tax dollars or utility dollars when these trees inevitably cause problems in 5, 10 or 20 years. Your local offices of Cornell Cooperative Extension can provide expert advice in this regard and I encourage decision makers to ask before they plant anything.

Another small flowering tree that I rarely see in our area is the Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata). The tree also tops out at between 20 and 30 feet tall with a 15 to 20 foot spread. It features large clusters of creamy, white colored flowers that look a bit like the common white flowering shrub lilac, but lack the lovely fragrance that shrub lilacs possess.

Late blooming

It also blooms two or three weeks later than the shrub types, providing early summer color at a time when it is generally lacking! It is tolerant of air pollution, poor soil and can be used as a street tree or in parking lot islands as well as a specimen tree in the home landscape. It is also relatively insect and disease free. It grows best in full sun.

There are several very attractive trees in the genus Stewartia. Perhaps the most popular is the Japanese stewartia, S.pseudocamilia, also called Korean stewartia. The white flowers do resemble those of Camellias and are produced in the summer over a period of 3 to 4 weeks. Each flower is not long lasting, but many are produced. It grows into a small to medium size tree with multiple trunks usually, spreading to 20 feet wide, but it can be trained to a single trunk.

It also has pretty, multi-colored, exfoliating (peeling) bark as it gets older and lovely fall color ranging from yellow to purple even. Unlike the previous trees I have described, this one is tricky to grow, as it prefers fertile welldrained soil, with high levels of organic matter. Full morning sun, but afternoon shade is optimal. It does not always survive transplanting, so smaller specimens would probably be best to try. Despite being a bit finicky to grow, this is one beautiful landscape tree once it becomes established!

Another mid-summer showy, flowering tree, with fragrant, camellia like flowers is Franklinia alatamata. Named after Benjamin Franklin, and originally found only along the Alatamata River in southeast Georgia, it is the only species of Franklinia and it also happens to be in the tea family. It is now considered extinct in the wild. This tree also is small to medium in size, topping out at from 10 to 20 feet, also blooming July to August.

Soil preference

It also prefers fertile, high organic matter soils with excellent drainage. I would call it “borderline” hardy at elevations over 1,000 feet as the ones at Lester’s house in Cornwallville sometimes fail to survive winter. It does tend to seed itself however and were it not “native” it might be considered as invasive in some situations.

Finally, if you are looking for a really unusual, summer flowering, large shrub (up to 20 feet tall) that is quite hardy, even at Lester’s house, I suggest the Smokebush Cotinus coggygria. This shrub is considered potentially invasive and although I have occasionally seen some “volunteers” it certainly do not seem to be a problem anywhere in our region.

The tiny flowers are produced in very showy, quite large inflorescences that may be pink to purple in color. It really does look like it is covered in smoke! The foliage is also reddish to purple in color and has bright crimson fall color as a bonus. It grows in poor, clay soil and can tolerate a bit of shade. The shrub has separate male and female plants, both have the characteristic smoke like flowers but the females are much more showy.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2017-07-19 digital edition