Seven sons

Heptacodium miconioides

Have a spot to experiment on a shrub?

A genus containing only a single species, Heptacodium miconioides is better known as the seven son flower but frankly, it isn’t very well known at all. You are unlikely to find this one in a local nursery, though it is increasingly popular in other countries. Seeds are available from online sellers and relatively easy to germinate. A decent sized specimen has been growing at the University of Alberta in Edmonton for at least 20 years.

This is beautiful, fast growing, large shrub is native to China though is now rare in it's home range. While it naturally grows like a shrub, seven sons can also be pruned into a small multistemmed tree. Either way, it should reach about 6-15 ft. tall.

The delightfully fragrant white flowers are produced in clusters of seven, hence the common name. They are highly attractive to butterflies.  After blooming, the showy red calyxes of the blossoms become more prominent and will last through the winter. How red these calyxes become is likely a matter of enviroment but the effect is specatacular - making the tree appear to bloom twice, in two different colors. Sometimes red berries (similar to a honeysuckle) follow the blooms.

The foliage is very handsome and often becomes wonderful shades of yellow through purplish red in the fall, and the very attractive, light brown exfoliating bark adds interest in the winter. New twigs are much brighter than older growth. It is in all ways outstanding. Add to this the fact that it flowers late in the year, and it becomes even more valuable!

In northern climates, flowering usually lasts from August into September or October but in milder climates it can be in bloom until November. Highly adaptable and very easy to grow, the seven son flower is happy in sun or partial shade. Since this would be a trial plant, we'd recommend keeping it in a sunnier spot so it is as healthy as possible.

While this shrub won't be easy to find, we believe that it is worthy of greater experimentation. Given that there are local specimens with long term survival and the fact that it is native to regions colder than lilacs, it should certainly be hardy here. If you try it, please send us your feedback.

So why have you never heard of it? Perhaps because it has only really been available in the nursery trade for about 30 years. When grown in Britain it has a reputation for being finicky. This is because it does not do well in the British climate (too wet and damp). This didn't stop the Royal Horticultural Society from granting the plant a prestigious Award of Garden Merit. Excessively moist air isn't a problem we have on the priaries so we don't anticipate these issues here. It's also won numerous American awards too.

Further, from seed to bloom may take about ten years. It can, however, be propagated from cuttings and it does produce suckers, though thankfully not at an invasive rate. It is also tolerant of pollution and has no pest or disease issues. (Except for deer.)

Be aware that there is a Proven Winners release called 'Temple of Bloom' that's listed as a zone 5. As a selected cultivar, we'd expect this to have lower hardiness than the species version but we really don't know. While we are not aware of anyone testing this particular cultivar in our area, we'd suspect you'd have more luck with the species version instead.

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