Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mountain Camellia

mountain camellia

My mom and I made a quick trip to Boone yesterday to take some things to my aunt who lives there and visit for a little while with her and my cousin.

We had just enough time to eat lunch out together at the Red Onion Cafe, find out who had died since we were there last (it's still a small town), then buzz through the Daniel Boone Native Gardens before heading back down the mountain.

I was so excited to see that the Mountain Camellia (Stewartia ovata) was blooming!  These are rare trees, native to the southern Appalachian mountains with only a few pockets elsewhere.  It's always a treat to see one, so I wanted to show you (though I wish I had done a better job with the photos!).

Stewartias are small, shrubby trees, rarely reaching more than about 15 feet tall.  Here you can see the beautiful bark.  Looks like I was just in time to catch the flowers--notice how many have fallen into the path already.

A little earlier, the buds would have looked like this one--little white balls about an inch in diameter.

Ev-Henwood Preserve, May 2010

By August there will be seed pods like these, which I saw when I was there a couple of years ago.

DBNG, August 2010

From what I understand, these trees are difficult to grow in the home garden; they're picky about soil and drainage.  But they can be started from seed.  These green pods will eventually dry and turn dark brown, splitting to drop the seeds.

Grown-from-seed plants are a little more likely to survive transplanting than ones dug up and replanted, but they're very slow growing, so I don't think I would try it, even if I had the right climate for it.  Maybe you're a more patient sort than I am, though.

silky camellia, ev-henwood preserve, wilmington, north carolina

Here in the piedmont we might be better off trying the silky camellia (Stewartia malacodendron).  There are a few specimens thriving in Charlotte, and I have seen them at the coast  (and posted about them).

Stewartia malacodendron blossoms are even more beautiful than S. ovata's, I think, because the stamens are red with purple anthers.  They're gorgeous and uncommon with red, white and blue in one bloom.

mountain camellia

Stewartias are related to camellias, but unlike them, are deciduous with great fall color under the right conditions.

A stewartia would be quite a treasure in the garden of anyone up to the challenge of nurturing one.  For the rest of us, Daniel Boone Native Garden is a nice place to get up close to this beautiful native plant.


Daniel Boone Native Garden
Mountain Camellia (Stewartia ovata) at


  1. Having sold many Japanese, Korean and Chinese Stewartias at the garden center where I work I was familiar with this beautiful and underplanted tree but was quite unaware of the mountain species. Christopher C pointed one out to me at the N.C. botanical garden and I fell in love all over again. Thanks for sharing this .

  2. I LOVE the bark on that tree. Thanks for sharing all of the photos and the back story. Great read.

  3. OMG, very beautiful flowers and trees! Love them. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Well, I think your photos are stunning!! I am coveting this tree, so just how slowly do they grow?

    1. i think it takes them a long time to get established, janet. and based on the size of one tree in charlotte that i know about, they grow approx. a half foot a year? i really don't know for sure. anything considered slow-growing makes me look for something else!

  5. Glad your timing was just in time to see the blossoms. Very nice photographs.