Gardeners of Australia
I think I first caught sight of a Dombeya tree in Barb Wickes' garden in Buderim - the Strawberry Snowball Tree (Dombeya cacuminum). It was massive with stunning scented flowers but made a hell of a mess due to its fallen leaves. Good news is however that was free mulch. It is a big tree and possibly too big for many gardens. I have not bought this species due to its high water need, but if I lived in an area with high rainfall I would have one.
A few years ago I came across the cane-like rambling species sold as Red Climbing Dombeya (D. ianthotricha). It is not a climber and is poorly marketed as that name. Its great when pruned back hard each year to produce upright stems from which the flowers hang. Its a good specimen for narrow gardens (provided it is pruned as explained) or used as a contrasting textural shape to surrounding low plants. Why I love this one is due to its red new growth, red hairs that cover all parts of the plant and gorgeous red bell flowers that are trimmed with golden pollen. Its tough... it handles drought well! This was my second Dombeya I saw in flower, and the second Dombeya I bought.
The first one I bought still causes me confusion. I suspect it is Dombeya pulchra with strong floral elements in that species. This plant is one of my favourites. It has become the screening specimen in my garden blocking views from and to the street. Like most Dombeyas the felt-like hairy leaves are delightful, but the soft pink-white flowers that are profuse in early winter are the winning feature, especially with the red eye to the flower. Bees love it (as with all Dombeya flowers).
I was on a role, I had to find more (and still seeking others). I tracked down Cape Wedding Flower (Dombeya tiliacea) which is used in South Africa as a tree or hedge, but here is best left as a single feature tree specimen. Good news is that it is not too big and has lovely heart-shaped leaves. Flowers are pure white and delicately scented.
[image by Noel Burdette]
My pride is the Mexican Rosetree - not from Mexico but from Madagascar (silly common name really). It is also called Pink Snowball tree which makes much more sense. The problem is identification of this species is extremely difficult due to a closely related hybrid - both have VERY similar characteristics making it difficult to tell them apart. Dombeya wallichii or D. x cayeuxii are similar in most ways and it is believed now that the specimen most people are growing is actually D. x cayeuxii, a hybrid. Unfortunately, most people sell this as D. wallichii.
What can I say about this plant that is bad, except that it keeps old flowers on the plant. This is a small tree to large shrub with massive leaves and gob-smacking awesome globular inflorescences. The flowers are scented - an added bonus.
There are more species - some trees and some small shrubs. There are not many available in Australia which is a shame as they can easily rival angel's trumpets, hydrangeas, camellias or flowering peach trees. The only disadvantages are that they flower mostly from early winter to early spring (if only it was longer), not much colour hybridising options available and they are not easy to propagation. As a result, they can be hard to track down and can be expensive - but worth every penny!
If you know of other species, please send me a personal message as I am on the HUNT :)
Check out issue 28 of subTropical Gardeningfor an indepth review of these plants...with more then to be featured in issue 29.