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A small genus of evergreen or deciduous trees and shrubs in the S.E. United States and E. Asia, belonging to the same subdivision of the Tea family as Camellia. Leaves simple, alternate, on short often winged petioles. Flowers solitary, more rarely in twos or threes, shortly stalked, mostly 2 to 3 in. wide. Calyx with five or six imbricated sepals connate at the base, subtended by one or two bracts. Petals five (rarely more numerous), white, connate at the very base. Stamens numerous, their filaments connate at the base and forming a tube. Fruit a woody ovoid or roundish often beaked loculicidal capsule, each of its normally five chambers containing up to four seeds.

Stuartias have been too much neglected in gardens; they have great beauty, and flower in July and August, when few shrubs remain in blossom. They are evidently not among the most rubust, for the American species, although first introduced more than a hundred years ago, must still be classed with the rarest inhabitants of our gardens. A sheltered sunny position should be selected for them, and care should be taken that they do not suffer from excessive drought. Whilst a peaty soil is not essential for them, they are undoubtedly benefited by having some of it, as well as leaf-soil, mixed with the ordinary loam of the garden, especially when young. Still a warm sandy loam free from lime suits them well. I find that the root shelter they obtain by being planted in a bed of Erica is very grateful to them, and the soil which suits heaths suits them also. Stuartias are not easy to propagate except by seeds which are occasionally borne by good-sized plants. They should, like most of those of the family, be sown as soon as obtained. Failing them, cuttings may be used. These should be taken from ripened wood in late summer and inserted in very sandy soil under a cloche in a cool frame, or even in pure sand. It is wise to put plants in their permanent sites as early as possible.

The genus was named in honour of John Stuart, Earl of Bute (1713-92), a gifted amateur botanist who was chief adviser to Augusta, Princess Dowager of Wales, when she founded the Botanic Garden at Kew, in 1759-60, and served as Prime Minister 1762-3. As explained under S. malachodendron, Linnaeus was misled into spelling the generic name “Stewartia”. This unintentional mis-spelling was emended to Stuartia by L’Héritier in 1785, and the generic name was almost universally so spelt throughout the 19th century.

An excellent account of the hardy species of Stuartia, by Stephen Spongberg, will be found in Journal of the Arnold Arboretum, Vol. 55 (1974), pp. 182-214.

Species articles