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THE GARDEN GUY: Temple of Bloom is the most exciting small tree

by Norman Winter Tribune News Service | September 16, 2023 at 1:44 a.m.
Hairstreak butterflies are among our smallest. Here a Red-banded Hairstreak is seen in comparison to an Eastern Carpenter Bee visiting the Temple of Bloom flowers. (TNS/Norman Winter)

Since fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs, I want to give a shout out to the Temple of Bloom seven-son flower.

This small tree is like the proverbial tree of life. Every pollinator in the neighborhood will find it and hang out, as well as those creatures that hunt pollinators. It is like a miniature version of the Serengeti. It has been hard for The Garden Guy to take the camera and binoculars and go indoors for fear of missing some action-packed moments.

It is known botanically as Heptacodium miconioides, and you will find it in the Caprifoliaceae, or honeysuckle family.

Fear not, it is not the least bit invasive, and remember, it is a shrub or small tree.

One of the unique aspects of the Heptacodium genus is there are no other species, just the miconioides.

The thousands of white blossoms produced in late summer do impart a tantalizing fragrance.

A rare horticultural event takes place once the petals fall. The Missouri Botanical Garden describes it like this: "Flowers are followed in the fall by an equally showy (if not showier) display: small purplish-red fruits crowned by very showy rose-pink calyces which elongate after bloom and last into fall."

The fall display looks much more red than pink to me, but perhaps it's determined by climatic conditions.

If all that wasn't enough, consider that it has attractive gray winter bark that exfoliates to reveal showy tan/brown inner bark.

The tree is fountain-shaped, and the leaves, which don't get talked about enough, stand out by offering a one-of-a-kind texture when compared to other small trees in the landscape.

It typically reaches 10 to 20 feet tall and half as wide. I'm in my third year and it has now topped my 8-foot fence. My goal is to develop a multi-trunk tree via selective pruning.

It is hard to believe that such a tree is recommended over such a wide region from zones 5-9, tolerant of various soils and sunlight. (Arkansas is in plant hardiness zones 6-8, with most of the state in zone 7.)

Expect best blooming, however, in full sun. Blooming occurs on new wood, so there is minimal worry about loss. If you do prune, do so in late winter or very early spring.

As I said, the butterfly watching has been wonderful to say the least, with various hairstreaks, skippers, monarchs and swallowtails making appearances.

I had a most unique experience the other night. Returning home from a restaurant and traversing up the driveway, the headlights illuminated an eastern tiger swallowtail as he was feeding on the flowers. I grabbed the camera and opened the flash just to see if I could do it, and the answer was yes indeed.

You will also need to keep the camera handy as the flowers are loved by hummingbirds. The next shocker is the number of species of both bees and wasps. I assure you it is more than you knew even existed.

While you might think this poses some danger to you or the children, you will notice they have one thing on their mind, and it is hitting on the blooms.

The Garden Guy is realizing he needs an entomology refresher for sure to take his butterfly, bee and wasp identification up a couple of notches. All this makes the Temple of Bloom or seven-son flower the tree of life and simply remarkable.

Norman Winter is a horticulturist, garden speaker and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden."

  photo  When the white petals fall, The Temple of Bloom starts a new phase where a small purple/red fruit is formed and the remaining calyces elongate and turn vivid red. (left) (TNS/Norman Winter) The Temple of Bloom grows fast and ages dramatically, with gray exfoliating bark revealing the tan/brown inner layer. (right) (Timothy D. Wood/Provided photo via TNS)
  photo  The Temple of Bloom, seven-son flower, yields thousands of fragrant white flowers in late summer attracting bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Here a Red-banded Hairstreak has placed it on the menu. (TNS/Norman Winter)

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