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Heptacodium miconioides, or seven-son-flower was first collected by E. H. Wilson during an expedition to China. Wilson was employed by Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum to travel the world seeking rare plants. In all, EH ‘Chinese’ Wilson brought us over 1,000 garden plants and around 16,000 herbarium specimens, introducing more plants to Western horticulture than any other collector. His introductions included the Beauty Bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis), the ‘Wilson 50’ Kurume azaleas, and the magnificent King’s Lily (Lilium regale).
Heptacodium miconioides was discovered by Wilson in Hubei province in China in 1907, but only introduced to cultivation in 1980 when seed was grown at the Arnold Arboretum.
Hepta- means “seven,” and -codium refers to the flower head. A member of the Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle) family, the plant is related to viburnum and forsythia.
Heptacodium is an outstanding specimen plant. Grown as a small tree or large shrub, its multi-stemmed habit reaches 15 to 25 feet with a spread of up to 12 feet in full sun. I have just planted a six foot specimen as part of a shrub border where its fall colour will be shown off against evergreen backdrop. It should be fully hardy in my zone 5 garden.
During early May, the glossy leaves emerge and remain attractive throughout the season. In late summer, at a time when few other woody plants are in bloom, creamy white, jasmine-like blossoms emerge from the tips of the branches. The blooms are sweetly fragrant and persist for several weeks. To maintain this late bloomer’s attractive shape, Heptacodium should be pruned before flower buds have formed.
Flowers are followed in fall by an equally showy (if not showier) display of small, purplish-red fruits (1/2-inch-long drupes) crowned by five very showy, sepal-like rose calyces which elongate after bloom and last into late fall.The calyces turn a bright cherry red, resulting in another spectacular late season display.
Even during winter with flowers and foliage absent, the heptacodium offer aesthetic interest. The bark is a light brown that exfoliates to expose a deeper brown beneath.