Silk Rose, Hong Kong Rose or Daio Zhong Wang (King of the Hanging Bells)
A beautiful flowering plant that is seldom seen in Garden Centres but deserves to be planted more often is the spring flowering Rhodoleia championii.
This is a wonderful flowering evergreen shrub (when cutting grown) or tree that was first found on Hong Kong Island in 1848 from where it was introduced into western horticulture in 1852. It has since been found in Guangdong province in South China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra but in none of these places is it common.
Belonging to the Witch Hazel family, it has clusters of superb pink to red bell-shaped flowers in the spring with the petals having wonderful substance. The flowers are a good nectar source for birds and bees. Because the flowers tend to hang like bells the flowers are not seen to best advantage until the tree is big enough to stand under and look up into it. The firmly, leathery leaves are a glossy green on top and underneath a bluish-grey to white, with the leaf petiole flushed with red. The bark of the younger stems tend towards greenish-yellow and ages off to grey.
It grows best in moister soils but needs good drainage and a warm position as it is frost tender. Dappled sun to light shade is regarded as the best position for it to grow although mine is doing well in full sun. Watering in dry periods is appreciated as it stops leaf drop.
As it takes a long time to get a trunk, it is not often used as a hardwood timber tree but when it is it has a warm, red-brown heartwood which gives a very smooth finish that polishes extremely well.
During spring this is a good focal point tree that looks great with its flowers and new growth flush and then also looks good for the rest of the year.