Heptacodium - A plant with a bright future!

Heptacodium miconioides, (seven-son flower) is a little known member of the honeysuckle family that is certain to become a household name. Although its name may be slightly unattractive, it has all the ornamental features necessary to be a prized, useful and well accepted landscape plant. Besides being rare, what makes this large shrub or small tree so desirable is that it shines at a time of the year when most other plants are at their worst. Seven-son flower blooms in the late summer - early autumn. Its 10-15 foot arching frame is covered with creamy white, fragrant flowers to create a unique and memorable show. And just when you think that this plant has reached its pinnacle of ornamentation, the flowers fade and are replaced by stunning cherry red, flower-like sepals. It's as if the darn thing is blooming again, but in a different color! This unique floral display provides effective and welcome garden color from late August to until mid-November. Although Heptacodium has little to offer in fall foliage color, it does have attractive brown exfoliating bark that provides appreciated winter interest.

Native to the Zhejiang Province of China, Heptacodium was first introduced to the west by the famous plant explorer E. H. Wilson. For some reason the plant remained obscure until 1980 when the plant was reintroduced from China and promoted to the nursery trade by the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard. In a relatively short period of time the nursery community embraced the plant and it has now made it available to the public. While Heptacodium may still hard to find in the Midwest, it has become all the rage in the East and enthusiasm for the plant is spreading west. I have seen stunning mature plants in Massachusetts, Ohio and Minnesota but only in botanical gardens. The availability of Heptacodium will follow demand as more people are fortunate enough to see this plant in its prime and discover this little know treasure.

From a gardener’s perspective, this plant gets even better. It is a strong growing plant with few insect of disease problems. Its large, narrow heart-shaped leaves are a clean dark green without a blemish. While Heptacodium is easy to grow, the only word of caution, is that pruning is a necessary task in creating a neat full bodied plant, be it a shrub or a tree. This is especially true when the plant is young. Pruning should be done during the growing season to create more breaks. For mature plants in the landscape, pruning should be reserved for either late fall-early winter or in the early spring. The flower buds form in spring and slowly mature over the summer, so an untimely pruning would certainly sacrifice autumn bloom.

Gardeners will appreciate Heptacodium as easy to culture. It is adaptable to most any soil type especially once established. The best flower display will be obtained by planting in full both sun, but Heptacodium can also be effectively used in partial shade situations. This is a very versatile plant that can be grown and used as either a large shrub or as a small depending how you prune it and train it. As a small tree, it would make a excellent patio or specimen tree up near or around the house. Use it like you would use a crabapple or a hawthorn As a shrub is can be used as a specimen, or it can be massed on larger sites much like is done with Viburnum dentatum or Viburnum lantana.

If you've seen Heptacodium in its glory, then you know how good this plant can be, and that this plant has a great future. If you've never seen the plant than take my word - Heptacodium is a great plant!