Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens
The Third New York Botanical Garden Triennial


Heptacodium miconioides
Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park, Oyster Bay, New York

I went to Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay with the goal of finding a tree with an interesting, colorful leaf. I was unconcerned with conspicuous flowering. Initially, I chose “the Fairmont Beech”, the symbol of Planting Fields; a deep red with a reticulated leaf. After several pencil roughs, it still wasn’t working for me. I kept returning to the Seven-Son Flower and its quirky peeling bark, until I realized, this was it! This was the tree.

I chose the specimen because I loved its large, elongated, heart shaped leaves as they dangled like elegant ornaments on drooping, reddish stems. It had a lovely clear bright green color, which I found darkened progressively with age. The veining was so unusual; a flat, bisected open center flanked by puckered side flares.   Secondly, the flower clusters which first appeared looked like bright green succulents until they burst open, like popcorn, to reveal 7 individual creamy white flowers per whorl; hence the name ”Seven-son”. As the flowers bloom and drop they are replaced with enlarging waxy, coral-colored calyxes which present as starry clusters on the branch.

I found this leaf challenging to paint in that the center of the leaf is so flat and without shine that it almost looked artificial. So I softly curved this section which added a bit of dimension and was still accurate. My base was Hookers Green mixed with Red Lake to tone it down and of course a little Prussian blue. A 10% sheer yellow wash was added later. The red increased with the older leaves. The flower clusters were so puffed it was hard to differentiate them so I relied on washes of lavender grey for separation. The subtle veining was a progressive buildup of only a slightly darker version of the local color using a 00 brush.  

I chose Planting Fields Arboretum because I grew up going there with my mother, who was a docent and volunteer. (I also hung out there after school as a teenager - it was such a mellow place!). I’ve since returned on a much deeper level. The history of Seven-son flower makes a unique contribution to Planting Fields. The tree is native to China and a very few were brought to the United States as a gift from China in the 1980’s. Sadly very few are now reported to exist in the wild and it is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Redlist of Threatened Plants. 

  • © 2017 Robin Moore
    Heptacodium miconioides
    Watercolor on paper
    15" x 20-1/2"