The Evodia Tree – Finding Love in an English Garden

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So we were wandering the English Countryside in search of plants new, old, interesting, useful and lovely. The “new” and “old” part was made particularly easy for me because I had never before been to England and knew almost nothing of its plants.

This was many years ago. I was the new gardening kid on the block. My Latin was limited to a miserable year in high school working on amo, amas, amat. That total ignorance was made much easier on this trip because one traveling companion was Woody Plant Maniac Dr. Michael Dirr – a friend of a friend – and former University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley, no plant freshman himself.

We would visit 21 gardens in seven days, once hopping a stone wall to get in because we were too early. Our lunchtime battle cry became “We’re wasting time.” Beyond my subsequent ability for horticulture name-dropping – and both Dirr and Dooley were very helpful to the rookie – this trip is well remembered because it awakened in me the love for gardens, gardening and gardeners I did not know I had. The prime reason for that is the rarely-planted evodia tree.

I remember my first-sighting of an evodia like it was last Tuesday. We were walking across a green field and at the far edge rose a spreading tree bathed in white flowers. As we walked closer I could hear the tree buzzing; the happy noise of what seemed to be a billion bees working on their honey thing; a sweet fragrance drifting down upon us.

It was love at first sight, sound and smell. I had no idea such a tree existed. I stood there mesmerized; me walking the English countryside in the presence of men who understood all this and could explain it to me. It was my first real step toward exotic-plant bonding and insane credit card bills.

It was a garden-life game-changer. Here was a native Asian tree first seen by me in England that would do well in my zones 6 in the United States. My first 30 minutes back in the States I was checking sources for this Evodia tree. My immediate goal beyond wanting one in my yard was to be the only person in Southern Indiana to own one. Gardening is not all about sweet plant love and sharing; some bragging rights have to come with it.

I cannot remember where I found my evodia. Or what I paid for it. I do remember planting it on the far side of a green space in my back yard hoping to recreate my English countryside moment.

Credit: Logee’s Plants

Subsequent research led to some other interesting facts that perfectly fit my tale. The word “Evodia” is Old Greek for “She who wishes others a good trip,” a phrase that comes ridiculously close to my hopes for a first trip to England. What could be better than a tree in which you instantly fall in love asking to return the favor?

Then all my bad Latin class memories came into play. Research in Dirr’s “Manual of Woody Landscape Plant” – right there on page 1131 – shows the tree’s name is often written as “Euodia,” which in Old Greek could mean “sweet fragrance” or “prosperous journey.” Both are OK, but not nearly as poetic or personal as “She who wishes others a good trip.”

More bad news. My Latin memories got even worse as it seems the “official” name for my evodia is now Tetradium danielli or Korean Tetradium. And don’t even get me started on Tetradium hupehensis, the Chinese native.

Then came some counter-balancing good news. The common name for the evodia is the “Bee-Bee tree.” The name, of course, came from those billions of bees that show up as it goes to bloom in late summer, making beekeepers, if not the bees themselves, very happy. The evodia can also be home to butterflies.

Why not?
When I give late-summer tours of our garden in summer I pause below our evodia to have visitors look up and listen; their moment of magic. The bees – often way up in the tree – are always too busy to bother us. It’s all about hummm and buzzzz, being transported back to England, less the airfare.

The bark looks a little beech-like and the tree itself is reputed to be weak-limbed. I solved that problem with judicious, if not loving, early pruning. Evodia are dioecious; either male or female. Both get the fragrant flowers. If pollinated, the female trees also can develop red and black capsules filled with purple-black seeds the size of buckshot.

You know what’s coming next:  Any tree that buck-shot-prolific is going to find its way onto somebody’s Invasive Plant List, although the list seems very short. I get no seeds, possibly confirming my final good news. To the best of my knowledge I have the only evodia in the neighborhood.

Credits for other photos: OregonState.edu.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Wonderful article, very enjoyable, but I would like to register my annoyance with those who introduce their story with “so” as the first word out of their mouth. I’m going to be replying “so what?” from now on.
    Now that it’s spread to excellent writing like yours, I have to rebel.

  2. I had the pleasure to attend a lecture by Dr. Dirr in Maine in the 1980’s. I still recall both his intelligence and wit. Traveling to see gardens with him must have been wonderful. His encyclopedia of woody plants lives on my coffee table.

  3. The Great British Bake Off always features scenery shots of a big, beautiful tree with red flowers – it must be an Evodia! (I had thought it was a red horse chestnut.) Thanks to you post for id’ing that tree for me.

  4. Yo, Mr. Hill. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. A most memorable trip indeed!

    But now you need to cross that newfangled east Louisville bridge (or is it the metro Utica bridge?) and come see us at Yew Dell. Now that we have that new bridge I think Crestwood is technically in “the neighborhood” and we gots lots of Evodia, Tetradium etc. One nice big plant Theodore Klein planted years ago and some seedlings I collected from a big 40-year-old specimen in Columbus OH that has never seen a spec of winter injury.

    And nary volunteer a seedling around these parts!

      • Me too, me too! BTW, had good luck with evodia on my place in north Mississippi, just to attest to the heat tolerance as well. I fell in love at Cave Hill, on a tour led by you, Paul Capiello.

  5. Really enjoyed this piece. I can completely relate, having developed an obsession for acquiring a Davidia based on Dirr’s description of it in my old,trusty and well battered, green paperback “Manuel”. Michael Dirr’s knowledge and his generosity with it are one of the perks of living in GA. He frequently gives talks to local Plant societies and I have been lucky enough to tour his personal garden. He’s a gem!

  6. More bad news: It is on the invasive watch list in Pennsylvania and other states are watching it closely. Here is what one Maryland landowner says, “Beekeepers love this tree because it blooms in the hot dry part of the summer. As a landowner and beekeeper, I do not like this tree. The tree was planted in arboretums in the mid-Atlantic many years ago and now it is found invading the surrounding areas from its original planting sites. It has invaded several acres on our property and is outcompeting the tree of heaven in that area. This is a feat; it worries me that we will lose even more of our woodlands to these invasive trees.”

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