Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia)

East of the Communications Building Map

The species call on this tree is at least partly a guess; even some professional tree people simply lump all suspected Stewartias together as Stewartia sp. Nevertheless, judging from the color of the bark and the shape and size of the leaves, pseudocamellia seems likely.

Certainly its exact identity will not matter much to the casual observer when the tree erupts in a carpet of white flowers in early summer, or, in mid-fall, as its leaves turn a glowing bright reddish orange. Even in winter the plant remains decorative, with its peeling, mottled bark in warm hues of brown and red. Stewartias of whatever sort are derived - with one not particularly decorative North American exception - from eastern Asia; Japan, China, Korea. They tend to be "tender" in cold climates (they freeze and die), and so they can be a challenge to grow in the Pacific Northwest. They are short trees (some actually are classified as shrubs), although a Japanese stewartia growing in Puyallup had reached a height of 45 ft. in 1992.

Curiously enough, Japanese stewartia belongs to the Tea family (Theaceae). This makes it a close relative of the common garden camellia, which accounts for its showy white flowers. The tea we drink originally was made from a tree-like form of camellia, Camellia sinensis.