Melliodendron xylcocarpum, or woodyfruit melliodendron, is described by He Shanan as a small deciduous tree 20-60’tall, and 6-8” DBH. This is a monotypic species endemic only to China in Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Jiangxi, and Fuja. It calls home the moist but well-drained valley floors and the wetter portions of the mountain slopes at altitudes of 3000 – 5000’. He Shanan served as editor of the Rare and Precious Plants of China, Shanghai Scientific and Technical Publishers, 184pp. A treasure trove of high quality color photographs with both Chinese and American descriptions, a must for the serious plantphile.
The Mast Arboretum plant comes from seed collected September 28, 1993 by Clifford Parks (accession number 83H47). The site was on a mountain just above the village of Yuyuan, Yuyuan County, Guangdong Province, China. Clifford describes the site as a rich, mesic slope above a stream along the roadway just beyond the conservation station (protected forest). The elevation was 900 to 925 m. Our plant was acquired in 1996 as a small rooted plant. It was grown one year in the Mast Arboretum nursery, a robust one gallon which was then planted in December 1997 in the Arboretum. In part-shade with some strong afternoon sun, the 10’ plant bloomed for the first time in 2000. This plant may be the first to bloom in the U.S. ever (surely not?). Todd Lasseigne, JCR Arboretum, reports their plant first bloomed in 2000 as well, but was two weeks later than this Texas plant. A plaque is in the mail. For our single tree, the bloom in May 2001 was excellent, lasted three weeks and everyone thought the plant had sex appeal. With the removal of a competing Viburnum awabuki ‘Chindo’, which was trying to own the place, the tree has bloomed annually.
Drought tolerance appears to be poor. For example, in summer 2001, our small tree went without irrigation for only a little over a month, took on a sad and wilted appearance, and then shed many of its lower leaves. Irrigation (hose-dragging) brought the plant to life. Interpreting He Shanan’s description of the habitat suggests that this plant be trialed in sites that can mimic stream side habitats. Well drained soil near a moist area or drainage way.
Frost tolerance is yet to be determined. This plant has not suffered tip damage during the last three winters, which have been mild. All we can say is that the plant has survived several bouts into the high teens, a few more in the low twenties, and plenty of late/early frosts with temps in the mid-high twenties. There was no apparent tip damage with early fall or late spring frosts. For now, we think the plant should be classified as Zone 7-9 candidate. Time will tell.
Propagation. Dawn Stover, Research Associate, seeded a flat of several hundred of the small seed (easy to get a lot of seed). The flat quickly produced a good stand in the greenhouse this fall 2001. No chilling needed. Plants were distributed in 2002 to a wide range of gardeners. We have never attempted to root the plant but suspect it should root well.