My Korean Sweetheart

“He saw potential in plants and in people, profoundly influencing lives and altering careers and personal directions” (Chlorophyll In His Veins; J.C. Raulston, Horticultural Ambassador). Bobby Ward’s literary work Chlorophyll In His Veins, describes the man J.C. Raulston who was responsible for building the J.C. Raulston Arboretum and putting N.C. State University on the world’s horticulture map. For those of you who don’t know J.C. Raulston, he was the late N.C. State University professor and his legendary efforts warrant him as our “Horticultural Ambassador.” J.C should always be seen as a national treasure as his contributions were colossal.

    One gift J.C. Raulston is responsible for is a tree he brought back with him, to the United States, during a 1985 expedition to the Korean Peninsula. The stunning Korean Sweetheart Tree, Euscaphis japonica is a tree that conjures up images, for me, of the Wheel-tree, Trochodendron aralioides and Seven-son Flower Heptacodium miconioides. I say these because the thick, lustrous, leathery texture of the Wheel-tree’s foliage combined with the folding leaves of Seven-son Flower are rarities that speak to the beauty of the Korean Sweetheart Tree. Euscaphis japonica is a small to medium sized tree that, because of its scarcity, has never made it into the mainstream of American gardens. And that is tragedy because this small beauty has so many wonderful attributes! Aptly named, Korean Sweetheart Tree, because of its rose-red pods that look like tiny, little hearts as they open. Broad ivory-yellow flower panicles appear in June and are followed by these showy fruits in early autumn. As these red pods open, they become even more dramatic revealing large shiny blue-black seeds.  Another attractive asset of Euscaphis is its attractive bark with white striations against, what can be, purplish-brown markings. This was one of J.C. Raulston’s favorite exotic tree introductions. Unique horizontal branching helps make this small wonder a bit easier to identify as it matures. Tolerant of drought, a wide variety of soil types and “hardy” in zones 6-9 should thrust it to stardom. However, mysteriously hard to find and a connoisseur’s treasure simply won’t allow that to happen yet. This lovely small tree is also virtually untouched by pests or disease and the young buds are a Korean delicacy. Birds and other wildlife cherish the fruit and butterflies flock to it.  Finally, the wood from this tree contributes to fine furniture and various plant extracts yield soap, tannins and medicinal components. Expect Euscaphis to grow roughly 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide and site this jewel where it will appreciate full sun to noticeable shade.  

    J.C. Raulston brought back this botanical anomaly to North Carolina in 1985 and it has since flourished. Another famous plantsman, Don Shadow, has been credited for penning Euscaphis’s common name. Propagation has made this tree an almost impossibility to find and heavy fertilization is said to ensure its success. In 1993 the Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore, PA, received a package from JC Raulston Arboretum with a seedling of Euscaphis japonica. Today, this small ornamental tree is over 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide showcasing all of its attributes. Pinnately compound leaves certainly add a textural quality seldom seen. “J.C. has been called ‘America’s horticulture ambassador,’ but he would have modestly rejected that definition. He likely would have been satisfied to be remembered for the signature with which he ended his correspondence: ‘Plan and plant for a better world’” (Chlorophyll In His Veins).