Summer Showstopper: Chinese Pearl-Bloom Tree

A close-up of the top of the tree

Chinese Pearl-Bloom Tree is fairly new to the US horticultural trade. So new, in fact, that I’ve only stumbled across this common name in the last year or so. This ornamental beauty from central China is otherwise known as Poliothyrsis sinensis.

I got my tree as a tiny rooted cutting from the JC Raulston Arboretum about 15 — maybe 18 —  years ago. My tree is now 35 feet tall, and it’s covered in long-lasting white flower clusters (called panicles) that mature to a buttery yellow and persist on the tree for about a month — even during the record heat wave my part of the southeastern Piedmont is experiencing.

It began blooming by the time it reached seven or eight feet tall; it has bloomed every summer since then. In my yard, the flowers begin to show themselves in mid-June. Even now in a sweltering mid-July, the buttery flower clusters are lovely.

The leaves are exceptionally nice too. They are shiny and heart-shaped, and the leaf stems (petioles) remain a reddish-burgundy color throughout the growing season. The leaves emerge red-tinged, eventually turning their deep summer green. Fall color is a lovely light yellow. Here’s a close-up of the leaves and a flower cluster:

Heart-shaped leaves, red petioles, and long-lasting flower clusters

Eventually, the flowers morph into clusters of brown seed pods that persist on the tree through the winter and into the next growing season. Here’s a close-up of the leaves with a seed pod cluster from the previous growing season:

The tree has a lovely shape too. I think I’d call it pyramidal. In his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (5th edition), Michael A. Dirr calls this tree a “fool-your-friends plant,” because it is not well known to most folks in the US yet. Dirr predicts this tree will remain shrub-like, topping out at about 25 feet. I must respectfully disagree. My tree growing in full sun on a hilltop is 35 feet tall and at least 25 feet wide, and it grows taller every year. In fact, it’s already a little too large for where I planted it.

But that’s OK. This tree — oblivious to drought, heat waves, and pests — can grow as large as it wants. I welcome its annual show of flower power during summer’s dog days — and its welcome shade and autumn color in other seasons.

Here’s a less-than-optimal parting shot of the entire tree, so that you can get a sense of its overall form.

Chinese Pearl-Bloom Tree

If you’re looking for a unique ornamental tree that tolerates a wide range of growing conditions and blooms during the height of summer, consider this beauty. But give it plenty of room to grow. My experience indicates that this Asian species feels quite at home in the southeastern Piedmont of the United States.

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  1. #1 by Alana on November 10, 2011 - 12:40 pm

    Have you noticed it seeding in at all? Since its not well-known, I’m mostly concerned about that. I have a couple in Zone 5b that survived the winter with no dieback. It put on at least 3 feet of new growth this summer. I’m impressed… but cautious.

    • #2 by piedmontgardener on November 10, 2011 - 1:15 pm

      Hi, Alana.

      I answered your question via e-mail (piedmontgardener AT gmail DOT com)

  1. Arboretum: Bussey Hill Trees and Insects » Skinny in a Land of Plenty

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