Plant of the Day – Emmenopterys henryi

A lovely tree grown in the open garden.

A lovely tree grown in the open garden.

Few plants will set even the keenest plantsmen (and women) drooling like a flowering specimen of Emmenopterys henryi, or Chinese emmenopterys.  The tall deciduous tree is a member of the same family as gardenia and other mostly tropical genera.  It hails from southern and central China where I was fortunate to see a large specimen on Tianmushan.  In mid-summer mature trees are loaded with waxy, bell-shaped flowers surrounded by white oval bracts.  The incredible fragrance drifts throughout the garden and I first saw this tree minutes after smelling the enticing aroma and tracking it to its source.  The deep green foliage makes an ideal backdrop for the flowers and with age the bark becomes quite showy.  Unusual naked and pointy winter buds make this easy to identify even when the branches are bare.  You may be asking why a fragrant, summer flowering, beautiful tree is not more widely available in the trade.  Unfortunately it can take up to a decade for even healthy, vigorous trees to begin flowering – a period longer than many gardeners want to wait.  It can be rooted from vigorous new shoots or very easily from seed.

Follow me at @jcramark because life is too short for boring plants.

Fragrant, waxy bells are surrounded by large white bracts.

Fragrant, waxy bells are surrounded by large white bracts.

Dr. Yunpeng Zhao and me hugging a massive Emmenopterys on Tianmushan.

Dr. Yunpeng Zhao and me hugging a massive Emmenopterys on Tianmushan.

Check out all the happenings at http://www.ncsu.edu/jcraulstonarboretum

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One thought on “Plant of the Day – Emmenopterys henryi

  1. botanicalart

    What a fantastic flowering! In 2009 I received a Travelling Fellowship to go to China to find and paint E henryi in flower but for various reasons wasn’t successful. However, I did see a glorious ancient tree near Muyuping, Hubei province, with the last of its flowers some 30′ above my head. Then, last year, I heard it was flowering at Cambridge University Botanical Gardens – less than 200 miles from my home town in Bath, England. I immediately went there and was finally able to achieve my aim – if three years late! But what a beautiful sight, and astoundingly intense fragrance of the flowers – of gardenias! I hadn’t realised they were related until I read your blog. So thank you!

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