Described by renowned plant hunter Ernest ‘Chinese’ Wilson as ‘one of the most strikingly beautiful trees of the Chinese forests’, Emmenopterys henryi (we fear there is no common name!) is now in flower for the first time at the Botanic Garden in Cambridge.
The tree is rare in cultivation, and extremely shy to flower. The first recorded flowering in the UK was at Wakehurst Place, Sussex in 1987, but they had to wait for a further 23 years before it flowered again in 2010. It has also flowered twice at Borde Hill, again in Sussex. Our example brings the total number of documented UK flowerings to just five.
The spectacular flowers arise in clusters, each one star-shaped, fragrant and surrounded by large, white elliptic bracts that flutter in the slightest breeze. The flowers seem to be breaking from the top of the tree and working their way down the domed canopy.
Emmenopterys henryi belongs to the coffee family, Rubiaceae. The Rubiaceae is a large family which is more diverse in warmer climates than in our own temperate conditions. Aside from the nation’s second favourite drink, coffee, the best known members of the family are the herbaceous bedstraws (Galium spp.) including the scourge of many gardens, Galium aparine, commonly known as cleavers or goose grass. Emmenopterys henryi was introduced to cultivation in the UK by Ernest Wilson in 1907 and named in honour of the Irish plant hunter, Augustine Henry, who first found the tree in central China in 1887.
For locations and more, please visit this week's plant picks via the link left.