Every once in a while, a tree I often pass catches me off guard and astonishes me. Such was the case with a Korean stewartia (노각나무) near Centre Street Gate. Never have I seen such striking winter bark at the Arnold Arboretum (and I have seen a lot of striking bark). Once you see this tree, you can’t look away. The typical (and always beautiful) large puzzle pieces of bark of varying ages and patinas in beige, dark green, and grey are there. But, there was something else I had never seen: panels of bark that radiated a look of brushed aluminum. Standing there, I was convinced I would be able to see my reflection as in a mirror (alas, this is not the case).

Stewartia pseudocamellia by Ned Friedman
Stewartia pseudocamellia 8-43*A. Ned Friedman

This Stewartia pseudocamellia specimen (8-43*A) has parents that harken from the top of Bussey Hill (seed mom = 11440*A; pollen dad = 11440*B) and was accessioned as a seed in early 1943. The maternal and paternal trees, though, are the ones with some real heritage! Both were collected as seeds by Arnold Arboretum plant explorer Ernest Henry Wilson in 1917 at the foot of Mount Chiri-san (지리산) in Gyeongsangnam-do (경상남도) in what is now South Korea. After a bit of a journey, these two seeds arrived at the Arboretum’s propagation operation in early 1918.

stewartia pseudocamellia bark by Ned Friedman
Stewartia pseudocamellia 8-43*A, close-up of bark. Ned Friedman

I checked on 8-43*A’s parents to see if their bark was as amazing as their remarkable offspring. Very nice, but alas, not even close. I suspect that the relative sunniness of 8-43*A’s spot may have something to do with this, as the parents grow in a more shaded location. In any event, this tree is easily found and worth an immediate trip to the Arboretum. And if you miss the bark this winter, there are always the spectacular flowers (so characteristic of the tea family) to see in July. But, my advice: don’t miss this tree and its bark soon!

Flower of Stewartia pseudocamellia 1269-83-A
Flower of Stewartia pseudocamellia 1269-83*A. Ned Friedman

From “free” to “friend”…

Established in 1911 as the Bulletin of Popular Information, Arnoldia has long been a definitive forum for conversations about temperate woody plants and their landscapes. In 2022, we rolled out a new vision for the magazine as a vigorous forum for tales of plant exploration, behind-the-scenes glimpses of botanical research, and deep dives into the history of gardens, landscapes, and science. The new Arnoldia includes poetry, visual art, and literary essays, following the human imagination wherever it entangles with trees.

It takes resources to gather and nurture these new voices, and we depend on the support of our member-subscribers to make it possible. But membership means more: by becoming a member of the Arnold Arboretum, you help to keep our collection vibrant and our research and educational mission active. Through the pages of Arnoldia, you can take part in the life of this free-to-all landscape whether you live next door or an ocean away.

For more tree-entangled art, science, and writing, subscribe to Arnoldia by becoming a member of the Arnold Arboretum.