Carrierea calycina is a rarely cultivated deciduous or semi-evergreen tree native to southern China known for its large, glossy leaves and extraordinary flowers, which are comprised of large, creamy, cup-shaped, densely pubescent calyses (there are no petals), surrounding either fuzzy, spindle-shaped carpels (on female trees) or masses of stamens (on male trees). Until very recently, it was only known in the West from a very few old plants in British gardens. These were originally derived from seed collected by E.H. “Chinese” Wilson in the early part of the last century, and although Wilson thought the species had great promise as a garden plant, his optimism evidently did not prove well-founded (according to the commentary in W.J Bean’s seminal Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles). Recently, however, Peter Wharton, Curator (in 2005) of the David C. Lam Asian Garden recollected this species in the Dashahe Cathaya Reserve in Guizhou, China. Seed of this collection was disseminated widely, both locally and in the UK.
Plants of Carrierea calycina in the Asian Garden at UBC (planted in 1995) have not flowered, though they are growing very strongly and look wonderful. One of the local seed recipients was Francisca Darts, who raised a fine specimen in her garden in South Surrey (near Vancouver). Her tree, a multi-stemmed specimen planted in the open, flowered heavily this year, to the delight of all who saw it, and showed itself to be a female. We recently learned that a female plant in the Hampshire garden of esteemed horticulturist and plant collector Roy Lancaster, flowered last spring, as did a male plant in a garden two counties to the east (in Kent). We learned this from Roy himself, as he was visiting UBC during his stay for the Hardy Plant Society Study Weekend in Vancouver and saw our plants. We hope that when our plants flower at UBC that we’ll have a suitable pair close enough to transfer pollen successfully. These handsome trees appear to be quite adaptable in this area, although their hardiness has not been thoroughly tested. Perhaps Wilson’s reputation can be salvaged, yet.