More Spring-blooming Goodness: Little Epaulettetree

Pterostyrax corymbosa flowers

For many years, Wonder Spouse and I owned a pick-up truck. In the early years of taming our five acres, it was handy for hauling all sorts of landscaping materials. And for a plant-obsessed gardener like me, the truck was very handy — maybe too handy — for hauling oversized plants from local nurseries.

My plant obsession is compounded by the fact that quite a number of small, outstanding speciality nurseries are within driving distance of my home. One such nearby nursery specializes in camellias and other rare and unusual, mostly Asian, ornamental trees and shrubs. Every fall to reduce their inventory, they hold a sale on their largest potted trees and shrubs. In the years when we owned our truck, I never missed a sale, which is how we came by the lovely tree currently blooming in our front yard.

Little Epaulettetree (Pterostyrax corymbosa) is from Japan, and, according to Michael A. Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (5th edition) it’s supposed to be more shrub-like than the other member of the genus, Fragrant Epaulettetree (Pterostyrax hispida). I would never be so foolhardy as to dispute Dirr’s assertions on any botanical topic, but in my yard, our tree (not shrub) is between 25 and 30 feet tall and still growing.

I’d show you a picture of the entire tree if I could, but because I thought this plant was going to be a shrub, I tucked it into a corner where many other trees were already growing. The truth is you have to be standing practically under my specimen to appreciate the impact of it in full bloom. Imagine the flower clusters you see in the photo above covering every branch — top to bottom — of a 25-foot tall, 15-foot wide tree.

The flower color is subtle, and most years I first notice either the fragrance — a subtle sweetness that never overpowers, or the sounds. When it is blooming, this tree literally hums with pollinator activity. Honeybees, bumblebees, carpenter bees, tiny solitary bees, assorted flies and beetles — all are drawn irresistibly to these flowers. Spent flowers carpet the ground beneath the tree, looking like spring snow.

All those pollinators insure excellent seed production, and I routinely pull seedlings from beneath the tree. The seeds don’t seem to travel; I don’t think the birds like them, and the seedlings pull up easily.

Unless I see evidence, or read about, this species having invasive potential, I’ll continue to enjoy its delightful fragrance every late April, as will the bees.

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  1. #1 by Pam Grovestein on December 28, 2011 - 1:37 pm

    The proper species epithet is corymbosus (not corymbosa), since “Pterostyrax” is a masculine Latin word (just like Styrax japonicus). Lots of publications list the error, however.

    • #2 by piedmontgardener on December 28, 2011 - 1:51 pm

      Hi, Pam. You certainly sound as if you know your Latin, and you may well be correct. However, all the sources I trust spell it ending in “a,” rather than “us.” So I think I’ll let it stand for now. Thanks for stopping by.

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