These slow-growing plants are all-season performers that show off fresh green leaves in spring, white flowers resembling single camellias in summer, and colorful foliage in fall. Winter reveals a distinctive pattern of bare branches and smooth bark that flakes off in varying degrees, depending on species. All grow best in well-drained, acid soil with lots of organic matter. Good in woodland gardens and as foreground specimens against a backdrop of larger, darker-leafed trees.
S. malacodendron. SILKY STEWARTIA. Shrub or small tree. Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9. Native to the Southeast. Heat-tolerant plant to 1015 ft. tall and wide. Young shoots and leaf undersides are downy textured. Leaves grow 24 in. long; flowers are 312 in. wide and feature purple stamens with blue anthers. Bark is not as showy as that of other species.
S. monadelpha. TALL STEWARTIA. Tree. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. From Korea, Japan. To 25 ft. tall, 20 ft. wide, with slender, upward-angled branches. Leaves are 1123 in. long; brilliant red in fall. Flowers to 112 in. wide. Smooth, cinnamon-brown bark. Heat tolerant and easy to grow.
S. ovata. MOUNTAIN CAMELLIA. Shrub or small tree. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. From the Southeast. To 1015 ft. tall and wide. Leaves grow 25 in. long, turn orange to scarlet in fall; 3-in.-wide flowers have frilled petals. Bark is not as handsome as that of other species. S. o. grandiflora has 4-in. flowers with lavender anthers; it will bloom even as a young plant.
S. pseudocamellia. JAPANESE STEWARTIA. Tree. Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7. Native to Japan and Korea. Forms a pyramid that may reach 3040 ft. tall, 2025 ft. wide after many years. Leaves to 2123 in. long; bronze to purple fall color. Cup-shaped flowers 212 in. wide have orange anthers. Very showy bark: It flakes off to reveal a patchwork of green, gray, brown, rust, terra-cotta, and cream. Two good selections are 'Ballet', with flowers nearly 4 in. wide, and 'Milk and Honey', an especially profuse bloomer with brighter-colored bark. Members of Koreana Group (S. koreana, S. pseudocamellia koreana) have orange to red-orange fall color and 3-in.-wide flowers that open out flatter than those of the species. All of these need cool, moist soil. They suffer badly from leaf scorch if planted in hot, dry areas.