Four Season Tree – Seven-Son Flower

Known mostly to plant collectors and plant geeks, one of my top small trees is is Temple of Bloom Seven-Son Flower tree. Named for its cluster of seven flower buds, it was introduced to American gardeners in 1980 and has been referred as “hardy crape myrtle” or “summer lilac”.

Heptacodium miconoides or Seven-Son Flower Tree

A beautiful, easy to grow small tree or small shrub, which simply can’t be matched for multi-season interest – maybe an often over-used phrase – but merited in spades in this case. In spring, the handsome large leaves emerge, making this special small tree stand out in the landscape. As the season progresses, the leaves grow larger and develop a long, twisting tip. Come August, when everything else is winding down, Temple of Bloom seven-son flower is just coming into its own and sends out clusters of fragrant white flowers, reminding me of a blooming jasmine.

When covered in large clusters of extremely aromatic creamy flowers, my honeybees and other pollinators start to flock to it and the feast begins.

The flowers last for weeks. When they finally fall to to the ground in a snowy display, the flowers reveal vivid red, fan-like bracts, which make it look like the plant is blooming again in a completely different color.

Sprinkles of flowers look like snow on the ground
Red is the dominant color after the blooms fade

As winter comes and the leaves drop, the plant’s elegant frame is revealed, along with amazing exfoliating tan peeling bark.

The bark peels off in large sheets
Exfoliating bark

One thing you have to pay attention to when growing this great specimen tree, is that the wood is very brittle and you need to prune the shape so the branches aren’t carrying a big load. So, yes, this tree requires some pruning and maintenance. That small requirement is no problem for me. But so many times, I see people plant a tree and neglect it, hoping for the best. Especially at a young age, trees should be pruned to create a good shape and for better health. Check out this Pruning Guide from This Old House. 

Pruning isn’t rocket science, and I find most people avoid it like the plague. But for healthy trees, you need to learn this skill or as an alternative pay a knowledgeable arborist.

Here are my top reasons to grow Seven-son flower:

– Contributes outstanding interest to your home but needs little care (see my note on pruning).

– Flowers in late summer and fall, when other plants are winding down. Not many trees bloom in September and October.

– Peeling bark looks great year-round but is especially striking in winter.

Best Attributes

Long Blooming
Fall Interest
Winter Interest
Heat Tolerant
Attracts: Bees (native and honey), Butterflies in droves, Hummingbirds, and many other pollinators too numerous to name
Butterfly nectaring on the flowers

The Cary Award, an award program of Tower Hill Botanic Garden, promotes outstanding plants for New England gardens. The Seven Son Flower Tree won that honor in 2002 and is listed as hardy to zone 5. I live in Maryland Zone 6b-7 and have been growing my tree for at least 10 years and love it!

Glorious Heptacodium in my yard

For training this tree, it could be a multi-stemmed or single trunk tree. Mine is a multi-trunked tree, but I removed many suckering trunks that came up when it was young.

For sources, I noticed that Broken Arrow Nursery in Connecticut carries it and they have a cultivar called ‘Red Select’ which has been selected for intense red fruit and sepals. If you visit some local specialty nurseries in the spring, they should carry it also, as it has become very popular. So, put this tree on your “buy” list.

3 Replies to “Four Season Tree – Seven-Son Flower”

Leave a Reply