Want to get jazzed up about a great plant? ASCFG member Mel Heath told me he had an interesting plant for us to come see at his Bridge Farm Nursery in Cockeysville, Maryland. This plant is called Heptacodium miconioides, seven-son flower. Since I’m an IPM guy I always look for the weak point in a plant but so far I cannot find one with this plant. It just doesn’t have any major insect or disease problems. Well, at least it doesn’t yet.
Crepe myrtle has become the standard late summer flowering plant but with Heptacodium you have a great plant without all of the aphid problems seen with crepe myrtle. This plant is a prize and one that cut flower growers should consider adding to their list to grow for woody cut stems. What is great about it is that it is covered with creamy white flowers that are very fragrant in late summer.
Late flowering in summer is a real plus but it only gets better in September when the flowers fade, and are replaced with cherry-red capsules and flowerlike sepals. You can cut it into the fall. The fruit display looks great through November and early December. The only negative is that the fall color is not spectacular, to say the least, but the berry and sepal display more than makes up for this fall color shortfall. As plants mature, the attractive brown exfoliating bark adds great winter interest to the landscape.
It is grown as a large shrub and eventually reaches 15-20 feet. Mel was cutting his down to 3-4 feet each year to get it to multi-branch for more cut stems. I ordered some plants from a West Coast supplier and am going to play with training it into a small tree. I think it has strong potential as 15-20’ single trunk small tree. Whichever way you grow the plant it does need some winter or early spring pruning to keep the shape attractive and well formed. Flowers form on the new wood that comes in spring.
Mel reports the cut flower stems sell well in the wholesale marketplace.
Heptacodium is adapted to a wide range of soil types. The best flower display is when it is grown in full sun but it will handle some shade. I keep using the Latin name but it does have a great common name, which is seven-son flower. This is great since my Chinese friends tell me in their culture every brother and sister is referred to by the number in which they were born. I guess someone must have liked their seventh son and name the plant after them. (Editor’s note: from the Arnold Arboretum “… common and generic names from its fragrant, white flowers, arranged in clusters of seven.”)
We have E. H Wilson to thank for introducing this plant to America from China’s Zhejiang province. The Arnold Arboretum has promoted this plant as an up and coming selection for the nursery business. I did an online search for suppliers of liners and found a couple on the West Coast and in the Midwest. One I ordered from was called Digging Dog Nursery in northern California. I like the name of the nursery besides the fact that they carried the liner plants This plant is adaptable to many uses. Try it in the landscape or as a cut woody plant.