Scientific name: Heptacodium miconioides
Plant type: Shrub or small, multi-trunk tree
Environment: Full sun to light shade, moist, well-drained soil
Bloom: Small, white, fragrant flowers
Uses: Background planting or specimen plant
Moon Viewing Garden – 74
Rhododendron Garden – 73I
Heptacodium miconioides, or seven sons flower, is a small tree native to China. Heptacodium is a monotypic genus, meaning this species is the only one in the genus. The English common name, seven sons flower, is a direct translation from the Chinese common name. This name is in reference to the clusters of six flowers that surround a seventh blossom.
In China, the seven sons flower is found in forests and on cliffs at elevations between 600 and 1000 m. The species is considered vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List due to logging and agriculture and as a result the species’ wild population is in decline. The species has long been considered rare in its native habitat. E.H. Wilson, a plant collector who collected extensively in China and introduced many species to science, noted the seven sons flower as rare when he first encountered it in western Hubei in 1907.
This observation by Wilson in 1907 was the first of this species by a western botanist and the species was formally described by Alfred Rehder in 1916. Wilson only found one mature seed while making his initial collection, and as such it would take many years before the species made its way into gardens.
The seven son flower tree was first introduced to horticulture in the 1980s from seeds collected by the Sino-American Botanical Expedition of 1980 via the Arnold Arboretum and the U.S. National Arboretum. The Sino-American Botanical Expedition was significant as it was the first plant collecting trip by western botanists to China since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and it resulted in the introduction of many species to cultivation. The Heptacodium seeds collected on that trip, along with more collected soon after from the same plant, are believed to be the original source of most Heptacodium miconioides in the United States today. And though the species is struggling in the wild, it has flourished in gardens in temperate regions around the world.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text and photos by Victoria Stewart