2015

 
 

Pinckneya is a small deciduous tree native to the coastal plains of the southeastern United States. It is a Connoisseur tree with a capital "C" and is rarely encountered in nurseries or, for that matter, in its native range. A few select nurseries grow it but few gardens, private or public feature it. And yet, those who do, generally consider it the most exquisite tree in their collection. Yet another botanical mystery.

Pinckneya has an interesting history. The earliest settlers to North America learned to treat fevers with a solution made from the bark. This was quite possibly learned from the indigenous peoples and it was this practise that caused the common folk to refer to it as the "Fevertree". Botanically it is Pinckneya pubens, though some list it as Pinckneya bractea.

Pinckneya grows to 30 feet tall though it is more commonly seen at about 15 to 20 feet, a highly convenient size for modern gardens. It has a beautifully coarse texture owing to the 5 to 8 inch long leaves and would contrast well with most other shrubs. But the feature that causes the most stir is the bloom, or more specifically the dogwood-like bracts which surround the flowers in a wreath of salmon-pink. The inconspicuous flowers are small, only 2.5 inches long, and easily overlooked. But they are complex and on closer inspection, quite beautiful. It is, however, the bright sepals that are the most eye-catching feature. In late spring the very showy blossoms are held elegantly at branch tip. The main color is pink, but with shades of cream and rose as well. These striking blossoms occur in large clusters, and a tree in full bloom is nothing short of spectacular. Additionally, the sepals retain their color for an extended period, thus the show lasts for weeks, which is most advantageous.

The coarse habit of growth and beautiful flowers, not to mention its rarity, makes this a center-piece in any garden. It blends well into a shrub border or as a featured specimen in the courtyard. Pinckneya is a tree of the American south, the Deep South, and it can't be grown in cold climates except in a greenhouse. Its native environment is damp and acidic, such as stream banks and pond edges. This may be a plus since that would be a difficult spot for possible competitors. So for that damp spot in full to partial sun Pinckneya is a prime candidate. But it must be watered in long dry spells. Pinckneya is grown in select gardens in the UK and US. Typically it is well suited to the southern US and warmer parts of the UK.

Naturally, a tree such as Pinckneya will not be found in the popular landscape nurseries but more likely in a specialty, mail-order, plant nursery.

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Pinckneya

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