Common name: Beaked stewartia
The rare Stewartia rostrata spent its first eight years at VanDusen hiding out. Then Covid came in 2020. The gardeners began working on clearing the trails - especially the overgrown plantings on the trail through bed 127D at the southeast corner of the Sino-Himalayan Garden.. Now you can see this graceful low key tree there.
Native to eastern China, beaked stewartia slowly grows to 5 m/15 ft as well as taking its time to flower. Ours was planted in 2012. This might be the first year it flowered. If so, that would be a ten-year wait. I didn’t see any flowers on it in 2020 or 2021. But in 2022 the Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly was moving from flower to flower sipping its nectar. With a lifespan of 6 to 14 days, every minute counts for the butterfly.
There are so many little but lovely things to appreciate about Stewartia rostrata. The buds and small flowers of this deciduous tree are tinged with red. The flower buds are surrounded by reddish-maroon bracts and open up in early summer to beautiful camellia-like flowers. After dropping its petals, unique seed pods begin forming with a long beak-like protrusion at the end. They look exactly like bird heads. And this explains both its common name and specific epithet. Rostra is Latin for beaked curve. The leaves are a glossy dark green. When fall comes they turn a reddish-purple and glow.
Text and photos by Hughie Jones.