Described as ‘one of the most strikingly beautiful trees of the Chinese forests’, our Emmenopterys henryi (we fear there is no common name!) is flowering for the first time with us after a 30 year wait.
The tree is rare in cultivation, and extremely shy to flower - our example brings the total number of documented UK flowerings to just five. Arising in clusters, the creamy flowers are each star-shaped, fragrant and surrounded by large, white, fluttering bracts.
It belongs to the coffee family, Rubiaceae, which is more diverse in warmer climates than in our own, although scourge of gardeners everywhere, goosegrass (Galium aparine) is a relative. Emmenopterys henyri was introduced to UK cultivation by Ernest Wilson in 1907 and named to honour the plant hunter, Augustine Henry, who had first found the tree in central China in 1887.
We are at a loss to understand why it has flowered this year, of all years. A tentative consenus had formed that the tree needed a combination of cold freezing winters and hot dry summers to induce flowering, so it appears even more extraordinary that it should flower now, following such a cold and wet summer.
It is not the only Asian beauty lighting up the Gilbert-Carter Memorial Area at the Garden. Close by, the large Japanese pagoda tree, Styphnolobium japonicum, is covered in profuse airy panicles of creamy flowers and the Chinese pearl-bloom tree Poliothyrsis sinensis, also discovered by Augustine Henry and introduced from China by Ernest Wilson, is in full flower. Click through below for more.