Stranvaesia in Winter



Stranvaesia in SpringPhotinia davidiana (formerly Stranvaesia davidiana) is seriously underutilized, perhaps in part because the nursery trade hasn't come up with a decent common name for it.

In Europe they've tried calling it David's Stranvesie. It is sometimes listed as Chinese Photinia or Leatherleaf Photinia, which causes it to be mistaken for the ubiquitous Photinia fraseri. So its former genus name has persisted as a common name, but if it were called something catchier or at least instantly pronouncable, I think more people would remember it & look for it for their gardens.

The species is named for the French Lazarist missionary of the Franciscan order, Pere (Father) Armand David (1826-1900), whose portrait is above right.

Pere David journeyed to China in 1862 to win converts to Roman Catholicism, but whenever taking a break from that particular mischief, he also studied plants, & had at least as deep a knowledge of science & nature as he did of theology. He collected seeds & specimens of many plants previously unknown to European gardens, sending them to Parisian botanists.

Stranvaesia in SpringThe natural species form is a tree offered as Chinese Stranvaesia or just Stranvesia, which can grow to twenty feet. The wavy-leafed variant undulata is usually only about five feet tall. And undulata prostrata, the prostrate form, is only three feet tall & mounding, with a five or six foot width, making it a handsome woody groundcover. This last is what we have planted in a roadside sun-garden.

The widening canes of Photinia davidiana var. undulata prostrata can alternatively be trained to a trellis or espalier for upright growth. The prostrate form has become the most popular of the Stranvaesias, but around Puget Sound at least, even this one is rarely seen.

New spring foliage is a brilliant shade of red & slowly fades through pink on its way to green. In May it has four-inch-wide clusters of small white flowers resembling hawthorn flowers, amidst rippled golden-sheened pink & green leaves. Summer's young green fruit by October turn pumpkin-orange then by late autumn or early winter have ripened to a gorgeous flat-matt red, hanging in groups like miniature cherries, or like mountain ash, but of a much more intense red.

Stranvaesia in SpringThese berries linger to the end of winter, while the evergreen leaves become brilliantly rusty red & dark plum to purple-black.

The photo up top was snapped in December (2002), catching the drupes & the varieties of winter-leaf coloration. The second photo from early May (2004) shows the spring pink & golden-green leaves, & many flower buds not yet opened. The third photo shows the flowers opening amidst golden-sheened foliage.

The last photo from October (2004) shows the fruit half-ripened to orange, the leaves not yet beginning to take on their winter color.

New spring growth including branch tips is only transiently dark red to pink, aging to golden later in spring, then green with light golden sheen in summer, then regaining the most vibrant reds & oranges & dark plum as autumn is turning into winter.

The awesome ever-changing progression of the leaf colors & the fruits can be seen going through seasonal transformation in the amazing series of photographs on the Stranvaesia page of the Winter Pomes & Berries Gallery.

It is overall an exciting alternative to the terribly over-utilized common photinia, P. fraseri, which for some godforsaken reason is ubiquitous as a Pacific Northwest hedge shrub, though utterly unsuited to hedging, & prone to spotty disease caused by the fungus Entomosporium mespili.

The common photonia can be fairly nice in its spring reds if permitted to grow into a tall tree, which takes it an awfully long while. But when forced into a hedge as so often imposed on it, its leaves become thin, few, & diseased, plus it usually fails to flower or fruit because hedging removes most of its buds. Stranvaesia has all of the best traits of common photinia (the striking reds of spring leaves) heightened & in spades, but is disease-resistant & possesses none of the more common shrub's miserable traits.

Stranvaesia in AutumnStranvaesia is native of temperate woodlands & harsher open areas of Western China, North Vietnam, Taiwan, & in very rugged subalpine areas of Sumatra & Borneo.

It has proven to be invasive in Hawaii's mesic forest, & there are restrictions in some areas where oranges are grown because it can be a host plant for the citrus longhorn beetle. For our region, however, it is both disease-free & trouble-free.

It prefers full sun but will tolerate a little shade, & may even prefer a little shade if grown inland. It likes moist but extremely well-draining slightly acidic soil, & when established for a year or two will be thereafter somewhat drought hardy.

It's first summer in a xeroscape garden, it got badly sun-damaged & dropped all its leaves. I worried I'd killed it for lack of water, but five weeks later, with me getting the hose out to it more regularly, the leaves were back. The next year, being better established, it demanded no more attention than the other low-maintenance shrubs nearby.

To restrain its spread, it can be autumn-pruned lightly or severely, careful to preserve as much of the attractive fruit as possible since these will decorate the branches all winter long. It does not demand pruning, however, & will produce increasing numbers of May flowers & summer-through-winter fruits if not often pruned.


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