Gordonia axillaris – Fried Egg Plant
Fried Eggs, Sunny Side Up, Please! Gordonia axillaris is in the family Theaceae and is closely related to Franklinia. In fact, there’s a bit of botanical controversy here - and some botanists have scrapped the genus Gordonia and moved the species into Franklinia and, in China, the species is often described as Polyspora. Whatever the name, the fried egg tree, is nothing less than a standout late fall bloomer. With time, the tree is reported to reach 15’ and about that wide. This evergreen species is prone to bloom in late November and December, which means a hard freeze can take away the plant’s cheerful nature. For the last few years, our fried egg tree has managed to escape killer frosts and rewarded the garden with a long bloom show. Each white showy 3” bloom sports a yellow fuzzy center of stamens and it’s easy to see why the plant gets its name. From a distance, the tree does indeed look like it’s covered with fried eggs, over easy! While related to camellias, the flowers do not “brown” on the tree, instead they fall quite quickly and light sunny side up and cover the ground around the base of the tree with a happy carpet of, yep, you guessed it: fried eggs. We have several specimens of Gordonia in the Arboretum. One is Gordonia lasianthus, or loblolly bay. Native to the SE USA, this species is a little difficult to place. It prefers moist humic soil that is very well drained. Planting on a slope near a wet area is often the best bet. Part shade seems to help. The plant is fairly easy to root with softwood to semi-hardwood cuttings under mist in June. While slow in the container, this is a special plant for the gardener in the South looking for late fall and early winter interest. The species is probably best in a part-shade or east facing environment and tip-pruning is generally recommended to keep the plant thick and full.
Dr. David Creech, Director of SFA Gardens