Back to

My Seven Sons

On Wednesday I swear I watched trees changing colors before my eyes. The cool and wet seemed to accelerate the inevitable approach of fall. Not that I don’t love the cool down, but it creates a sometimes bizarre mix of conflicting emotions right down deep in the very core of my being.

Glorious cool, sunny day. Revel in it. But that can be followed by killer frost. Some folks got frost last weekend. Frost!, you be so evil.

Yea, frost! No more watering or weeding tropicals and annuals.

Boooo, frost! No more annuals and tropicals.

Fabulous fall color on the trees. Yippee!

Trees bare and gray for nearly six months. Yikes!

See what I mean? But I know it’s all about the cycles and all part of being in a climate like we have in the Midwest. The state climatologists say we will warm back up mid-October. Does that mean no frost until November for many? Possibly.

But it’s because fall is kinda that special time when weather can be so wonderful that we include the autumn bloomers, like anemone and aster and woody plants, with great fall foliage color or berries, like maples and viburnums. Well, that and we are desperate to delay the gray of winter for as long as possible.

Which brings me to a plant that is coming into its glory this time of year – Heptacodium miconioides, seven-son flower.

It’s a relative of honeysuckle, but without the invasive tendencies of some of those. Discovered by the West in the early 1900s, seed did not arrive until 1980, so it is a pretty new plant to cultivate here. Now, I admit it isn’t for every garden. It’s big, for one thing. Actually, that’s the main thing. Heptacodium can be 15 feet tall or greater with a spread approaching 10 feet. It’s not a delicate little thing. It also has a gangly habit without a bit of judicious pruning. That pruning will also enhance viewing the very attractive peeling bark so I highly recommend it.

Heptacodium has very attractive foliage all season, the leaves exhibiting deep venation and holding on until late fall. No real fall color to shout about. But it does flower in fall, which is something to shout about. They can start as early as August but September seems the more likely time here. Ours are still flowering nicely and it is nearly October.

Apparently it is the arrangement of the flowers in clusters of seven that give Heptacodium its common name of seven-son flower. Oh! I almost forgot. The flowers are fragrant. Sweet and slightly reminiscent of what I call the Gardenia family of fragrances. Not members of the same plant family as Gardenia, but fragrances that make me think of Gardenias.

As the flowers fall away, the sepals remain and turn a bright red color, extending the show another two to three weeks.

There is a possibility that selections of this plant will be made for better color in the sepals, or plants that hold the color longer.

As I mentioned earlier, I like the bark. Not flashy, I know, but attractive.

So while not for every garden, Heptacodium certainly has many fine qualities that recommend its use more often. It is really nice to have plants coming into their glory at all times of the year and not have everything be spring and summer stars. Seven-sons fills that niche by being pleasing in the landscape all summer, then giving a tiring garden a boost of energy come September.

Filed under: Horticulture

6 Responses to “My Seven Sons”

  • avatar
    Sam Says:

    Irvin, it would be interesting to see how much variation there is in Seven-Son flower populations. Also, if propagation in nurseries is by seed, that would allow for more variation. Some of the variation perhaps being undesirable. I am thinking that some sort of clonal propagation of the best specimens might be a good thing.

    Your trees look like smaller versions of the gorgeous trees that I saw at the Chicago Botanic Garden a number of years ago that inspired me to try them at the University of Maryland. They seem like much more desirable plants than the two plants that we have at the University of Maryland. Last year no red sepals and it doesn’t look like that they are developing this year either. We started getting dieback of twigs up to 3 feet in length in early August this year. Two years ago when we bought them as 8-10 ft. ball and burlapped plants, there was about 4 foot of dieback at the time. Guessing that may have been from over application of pre and post emergent herbicides at the nursery. I am still hoping that they will turn into the gorgeous trees that you have in your pictures and that I observed at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

    In addition to the many positive attributes that you have mentioned, I have noticed that hummingbirds are attracted to Seven-Son flowers as well as many pollinators. The pollinators have attracted a couple of cute tiny brown birds that are extremely shy and quiet. Have been trying to get a good picture of them to send to Big Sue for identification.

  • avatar
    Lynne Says:

    Your blog inspired some of our heptacodium to find new homes…thanks, Irvin!

  • avatar
    irvin Says:

    Sam, thanks for the information on the dieback. I didn’t see any on ours but bears watching. Also interesting that the sepals are not coloring up on the UM plants. Dadburn seedling variation! Glad to hear the hummingbirds like them too. And look forward to hearing the identity of those little brown birds.

    Lynne, glad I could faciclitate the adoptions. Never expected that.

  • avatar

    I can’t believe how cool and how quick it got. It is feeling like Indiana fall weather.

  • avatar

    I wonder and wonder why I stay in Indiana and don’t move to Florida. Though I must say that fall is the most beautiful time of year here.

  • avatar
    irvin Says:

    IJC – it is indeed feeling like fall, especially on rainy days.
    Pick – you would miss the changing seasons I bet and that may be why you stay.

  • Trackbacks