Gardeners in the south looking for small deciduous trees often think of dogwoods and redbuds, but Japanese stewartia can be an inspired choice in the garden. It is a small tree with beautiful flowers and foliage. Japanese stewartia functions well as an understory tree, flowering even in shady areas.
The scientific name is Stewartia pseudocamellia. The first time you see Japanese stewartia in the landscape the first instinct is to wonder why a camellia is blooming in summer. Pseudocamellia = ‘false camellia’. Both camellias and stewartias are in the tea family.
The flowers are refined, 2″-3″ across in single form with white petals and gold stamens. The flowers, while beautiful, are only a small part of the charm of this tree, as its value spans all four seasons.
Japanese stewartia has beautiful foliage, good fall color, and exfoliating bark, making it valuable all year in the garden.
It grows slowly to twenty to thirty feet or more and is often grown as a much smaller shrub. It flowers in summer. The foliage is reliably healthy throughout the season and the bark exfoliates, always a worthy trait in the gardening world.
Growing Japanese stewartia in the garden
Once established, Japanese stewartia needs little to no supplemental watering. It prefers well-drained soils, and does not respond well to drought when young. Can tolerate full sun but afternoon shade can be beneficial in southern gardens. Member of the tea family, so acidic pH is recommended. Flowers do not last long but come in waves.
Scientific name: Stewartia pseudocamellia
Plant type: tree
Exposure: Full sun (northern zones) to partial shade. Protection from afternoon shade is highly recommended. Morning sun and afternoon shade is perfect.
Height: Grows 20′-50′ tall x 20′ wide. Can be grown as a multi-stemmed shrub. Slow growth rate but give Japanese stewartia room in the garden to spread over time. Sometimes planted too close to foundations and then inappropriately cut back, ruining the form.
Native status: native to Japan
Bloom period: Early summer
Winter hardiness: 5-8
Of note: Beautiful understory tree. Gorgeous exfoliating bark provides winter interest. Good fall color. White single form flowers with gold stamens look like camellia blooms. Understated and reliably healthy. Has a reputation for being un-appetizing to deer.