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Glowing brilliant red Chinese endemic shrubs at the Arboretum

by William (Ned) Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum
October 22, 2018

Heptacodium miconioides

Glowing brilliant red Chinese endemic shrubs at the Arboretum

Seventy-three years is a long wait. That’s what it took between the Arnold Arboretum’s Ernest Henry Wilson (the great explorer of Asian plant biodiversity in the early twentieth century) first observing seven son flower (Heptacodium miconioides) in Hubei in 1907 and its arrival in the living collections here in Boston. Only in 1980, with the Arnold Arboretum’s participation in the historic Sino-American Botanical Expedition, did seeds cross an ocean to be germinated in the Dana Greenhouses and eventually make their way onto the grounds. Clearly, we take the long view of things here at the Arnold Arboretum!
Heptacodium miconioides

Heptacodium (there is only one species in the genus) was well worth the wait. In late summer, these tall shrubs with magnificent peeling bark, produce a wonderful show of white flowers (lower left; 1549-80*D) much appreciated by insect pollinators looking for a nectar fix. But, the best is yet to come. After being pollinated, the white petals abscise and the small (easily overlooked) green sepals quintuple in size and turn a dramatic crimson red (why?). October is the perfect time to see this dazzling show, against a blue sky (lower right; 425-91*B) or in the late afternoon (say, 4:15pm) when the sun is low and the fruits are backlit and literally glow (upper image; 425-91*B). The most dramatic grouping of these plants can be found on Bussey Hill in Explorers Garden.

Although rare in the wild, there appear to be a small number of populations in Anhui, Hubei, and Zhejiang provinces. Read in Arnoldia all about how this endangered Chinese species was finally collected and brought to the Arboretum to be given safe harbor in botanical gardens (ex situ conservation) in a world that is not particularly kind to our biodiverse brethren.
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One thought on “Glowing brilliant red Chinese endemic shrubs at the Arboretum

  1. I have a Heptacodium growing against our house in Rumney, NH where we spend the summer. Some years we get to enjoy the white blossoms but have never been there to experience their color change to red. We will have to try to make a special weekend trip one of these years. I got my specimen as a very small plant at one of the plant giveaways. It now reaches up to the second floor windows. I had expected it to be a shrub and was surprised when it turned into what I would classify as a tree. Had I known that, I would not have planted it in its current location. However, it may be that its shelterd location against the south side of the house is what has helped it thrive. Sorry that I do not have a photo of it to send.

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