Cult Status
Country Life UK|March 20, 2019
Cult Status

ET me now praise Emmenopterys henryi. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t have an English name, which isn’t surprising because you don’t often see it in European gardens.

Charles Quest-Ritson

However, it is hardy, handsome and, somewhat surprisingly, quite closely related to the plants that give us coffee and quinine. All are members of the Rubiaceae family.

E. henryi is a deciduous tree from southern China, spilling over into northern Vietnam and Thailand. It’s found in temperate forests and valleys with an annual rainfall of 60in–80in at altitudes between 1,310ft and 5,250ft, together with that other botanical wonder Davidia involucrata, the handkerchief tree.

In the wild, it grows to 100ft tall, its handsome flowers set off by no less handsome glossy leaves, which have a bronzy tint, deep-red leaf stems and crimson autumn colour.

However, its leaves are not why E. henryi has such a following among the gardening cognoscenti. The reasons for its popularity are twofold: first, it has enormous white flowers quite unlike anything else and, second, it flowers very rarely—in Britain, anyway.

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March 20, 2019