The Japanese stewartia is an ideal match for anyone who loves the beauty of rich fall foliage but doesn't have a lot of land to work with. Native to Japan, this small specimen tree is known for its attractive exfoliating bark and delicate blooms that closely resemble camellias, as evidenced by its species name, Stewartia pseudocamellia. The "stewartia" part is named for Scottish nobleman and botanist John Stuart, who had imported the plant to his personal London garden. He later served as British prime minister from 1762 to 1763.
Planted in spring or early summer, this slow-growing, low-maintenance deciduous tree will eventually grow cup-shaped white flowers with showy orange-yellow anthers that develop in the early summer. Its foliage of dark green leaves transforms into gorgeous autumn hues as summer turns to fall. As its leaved shed, a flaky, multi-colored, and pretty patchwork bark is exposed that gives the tree some winter interest. The bark peels away in strips of gray, reddish-brown, and orange.
|Botanical Name||Stewartia pseudocamellia|
|Common Name||Japanese stewartia|
|Plant Type||Deciduous tree|
|Mature Size||12-40 ft. tall, 8-25 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, part shade|
|Soil Type||Moderately fertile, moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic (4.5 to 6.5)|
|Bloom Time||Late summer, fall|
|Flower Color||White flowers; red, orange, burgundy leaves|
|Hardiness Zones||5-8 (USDA)|
Japanese Stewartia Care
The Japanese stewartia doesn't always establish itself as easily as other shrubs and trees so it takes tender loving care, or it may fall over. It is commonly sold as either a large multi-stem shrub or as a tree, but it is not a container plant. When choosing a location for your Japanese stewartia, be sure to provide a site that's sheltered from cold, dry winds, which will damage buds and flowers. Do not plant in the fall or winds and storms may topple the the plant, but use supports and stakes to help stabilize the tree.
Since it's a smaller tree, it's a good fit for more compact landscapes. A multi-season tree, consider planting a Japanese stewartia in your front yard or any other focal point (such as near a patio or outdoor room). It's a popular choice because it provides homeowners with a colorful and textural show for every season.
Some suggested companion plants for the Japanese stewartia include the Alice Oakleaf Hydrangea, Sunburst Hypericum, and Green Sheen Japanese Spurge. You can also pair this tree with low-maintenance shrubs, such as shrub roses, viburnum, ninebark, and spirea.
This tree grows best in full sun to partial shade. However, the leaves are prone to sunburn in very strong afternoon sun. It should be shaded during the hottest times of the day.
The Japanese stewartia prefers moist, well-drained soils that are moderately fertile.
Water the tree regularly during the first year after planting to facilitate a deep and extensive root system. Maintain watering after its first year for wet, evenly moist soil. These trees should be watered at least weekly for optimal growth and will require deeper watering during extended dry periods. Mulch during cooler months to keep moist.
Temperature and Humidity
If you live in a region with warm summers, plant your Japanese stewartia tree in a protected location where it can receive some shade from the intense afternoon sun (such as the east or north side of either a house or building).
Fertilize your Japanese stewartia during its early years; do so in the spring with an acidifying organic granular fertilizer.
Japanese Stewartia Varieties
- Silky Stewartia: Deciduous shrub with white flowers
- Chinese Stewartia: Small flowering tree native to China; fragrant white flowers turn red in fall
- Upright Stewartia: Deciduous multi-trunked tree or shrub; cup-shaped white flowers and glossy green leaves turn red in fall
Pruning is rarely needed for these trees, but winter (or any time after flowering) is the best time to remove broken branches as well as those that are crossing or rubbing. When working on your tree, be careful not to hit the bark with equipment. The bark is extra thin and susceptible to damage. Prune the lower limbs as the tree grows; in doing so, you will reveal the fascinating spectrum of the bark's colors.
Propagating Japanese Stewartia
You can propagate the Japanese stewartia by softwood cuttings in the early summer or semi-hardwood cuttings in the mid- to late-summer. Though germination is an extremely slow and complex process, you can also propagate Japanese stewartia by seeds sown outdoors in the fall months.