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Stewartia malacodendron is often confused with:
Stewartia pseudocamellia Leaves
Native alternative(s) for Stewartia malacodendron:
Stewartia ovata Stewartia ovata
Plants that fill a similar niche:
Halesia carolina Full Form
Stewartia ovata Stewartia ovata
Acer pensylvanicum Form

Silky Camellia Stewartia malacodendron

Previously known as:

  • Malachodendron monogynum
  • Stewartia virginica
Phonetic Spelling
stew-AR-tee-ah mah-lah-koh-DEN-dron
Description

The silky camellia is a beautiful flowering deciduous shrub or small tree that is native to North Carolina. This particular species tends to occur more in the coastal plain. Another native, known as the mountain camellia, is found in the piedmont and the Appalachian Mountains. The silky camellia may reach a height of 10 to 18 feet and has wide-spreading branches. The plant is a member of the Theaceae family and is related to the Camellia. The white Camellia-like flowers and the cinnamon-colored exfoliating bark are eye-catching in a woodland setting.

The silky camellia is native to the Southeastern United States and the Gulf Coast, but it may be rarely seen. The plant may be found as an understory tree in woodland areas or along ravines, streams, and creeks. The Department of Natural Resources has reported that in the State of Georgia, the plant is "imperiled" with only nine confirmed sightings since 2000. It is also vulnerable in Alabama, and there are rare sightings in east Texas. 

The genus's name, Stewartia, is in honor of John Stuart who was a 16th-century Scottish botanist. The spelling was the result of a transcription error. During the 19th-century, the name Stuartia was used; however, the original spelling is now accepted. The species name, malacodendron, is Greek and means "soft tree." This refers to the silky hairs on the undersides of the leaves.

The silky camellia prefers rich loamy, moist, well-drained soils, and the shelter of woodlands. The plant thrives in the morning sun but needs deep shade during the hottest part of the day.  They are difficult to transplant.  Propagation methods include seeds, softwood cuttings, or semi-hardwood cuttings. Pruning is not needed except to remove diseased or damaged limbs.

The white Camellia-like flowers have centers of purple stamens and blue anthers. The bark is smooth cinnamon color and exfoliates in strips. Silky hairs are found on the undersides of the dark green leaves and the young reddish-brown twigs. The fruit is a small oval capsule.

Consider the silky camellia as an accent or specimen in a shaded and sheltered cottage garden or woodland setting. Be aware that it has been known to be difficult to cultivate and does not like to be disturbed. 

NC native shrub or tree

Seasons of Interest:

Foliage: Fall     Bloom: Late Spring/Early Summer    Fruit:  Fall      Bark:  Winter

Quick ID Hints:

  • wide-spreading branches
  • cinnamon-colored exfoliating bark
  • reddish-brown and hairy young twigs
  • dark green leaves with silky hairs on the undersides
  • white saucer-like five-petaled flowers with purple stamens and blue anthers
  • small, green oval fruit capsules

Insects, Diseases, and Other Problems: The silky camellia has no serious insect or disease problems. 

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Beaver Creek'
    large flower with purple filaments
  • 'Delmarva'
    white flower, petals streaked with red, purple stamens
'Beaver Creek', 'Delmarva'
Tags:
#cultivars#showy flowers#deciduous#small tree#heat tolerant#specimen#white flowers#shrub#slow growing#native tree#shade shrub#deciduous shrub#native shrub#shade garden#spring flowers#fall interest#cottage garden#accent plant#flowering tree#moist soil#food source wildlife#NC native#well-drained soil#large shrub#rich soils#flowering shrub#large flowers#native garden#attractive leaves#fruits fall#summer interest#spring interest#acidic soils tolerant#flowers late spring#multitrunked#deciduous tree#flowers early summer#summmer flowers#exfoliating bark#loamy soils tolerant#fruits#fall color orange#fruits early fall#partial shade tolerant#bee friendly#Audubon#heavy shade tolerant#partial sun tolerant#woodland
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Beaver Creek'
    large flower with purple filaments
  • 'Delmarva'
    white flower, petals streaked with red, purple stamens
'Beaver Creek', 'Delmarva'
Tags:
#cultivars#showy flowers#deciduous#small tree#heat tolerant#specimen#white flowers#shrub#slow growing#native tree#shade shrub#deciduous shrub#native shrub#shade garden#spring flowers#fall interest#cottage garden#accent plant#flowering tree#moist soil#food source wildlife#NC native#well-drained soil#large shrub#rich soils#flowering shrub#large flowers#native garden#attractive leaves#fruits fall#summer interest#spring interest#acidic soils tolerant#flowers late spring#multitrunked#deciduous tree#flowers early summer#summmer flowers#exfoliating bark#loamy soils tolerant#fruits#fall color orange#fruits early fall#partial shade tolerant#bee friendly#Audubon#heavy shade tolerant#partial sun tolerant#woodland
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Stewartia
    Species:
    malacodendron
    Family:
    Theaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Southeastern United States to Texas
    Distribution:
    Native: United States--AL, AR, FL, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC, TX, and VA
    Wildlife Value:
    The flowers attract bees and butterflies to collect pollen. The seeds are dispersed by birds and small mammals.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Dimensions:
    Height: 10 ft. 0 in. - 18 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 15 ft. 0 in. - 25 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Horizontal
    Multi-stemmed
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    7b, 8b, 8a, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Green
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is a small, green, oval-shaped, woody capsule that contains 1-4 brown seeds. The capsule is 0.5 inches long and is divided into 4-5 segments. Each segment contains 2-4 seeds.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Blue
    Purple/Lavender
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Solitary
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Saucer
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    The flowers are white saucer-shaped and have five white petals with crimped edges. The flowers are occasionally streaked with purple. In the center of the flower, there are 50-100 purple stamens with blue anthers. The flower measures 3 inches wide. They bloom from mid-spring to early summer.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Soft
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are dark green, alternate, and ovate to elliptical. They measure 2 to 4 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide. The undersides of the leaf have silky hairs. The fall foliage is greenish-yellow to yellow.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Light Brown
    Red/Burgundy
    Surface/Attachment:
    Exfoliating
    Smooth
    Bark Description:
    The bark is smooth, reddish-brown, or cinnamon-colored that exfoliates in strips.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Buds:
    Hairy
    Stem Bud Scales:
    Enclosed in 2 scales
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    The young twigs and buds have silky hairs. The young twigs are reddish-brown. As they mature, the twigs become grayish-green and smooth.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Meadow
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Cottage Garden
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Shade Garden
    Design Feature:
    Accent
    Flowering Tree
    Specimen
    Understory Tree
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Butterflies
    Pollinators
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Heat