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Products > Robinsonella cordata
 
Robinsonella cordata - Heartleaf Robinsonella
   

[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Tree
Family: Malvaceae (w/Bombacaceae & Sterculeacea)
Origin: Mexico (North America)
Flower Color: Lavender Blue
Bloomtime: Spring
Height: 20-30 feet
Width: 20-30 feet
Exposure: Full Sun
Irrigation (H2O Info): Medium Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 25-30 F
Robinsonella cordata (Heartleaf Robinsonella) - A slender deciduous gray barked tree to 40 feet tall with 2 to 4 inch long leaves that are heart shaped with a acuminate tip and covered with dense fuzzy hairs on the undersides. In spring and sometimes into summer appear the very showy terminal sprays of 3/4 to 1 inch wide lavender-blue hibiscus-like flowers. Plant in full sun and irrigate regularly to occasionally - older specimens have tolerated situations receiving little to no irrigation but likely would grow much better with more water. This tree is known from wooded or brushy ravines at 5,000 to 6,500 feet in southern Mexico and Guatemala - some report it as far north as Puebla, Mexico. Robinsonella is a genus of 14 species from South and Central America that was named in recognition of Benjamin Lincoln Robinson, Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany at the Gray Museum at Harvard . Robinson was assistant to Sereno Watson for two years and then replaced him as curator when Watson died in 1892, a post he retained until his own death in 1935. While little known of it in cultivation, this tree has garnered the attention and praise of a number of plants lovers over the years. In Edwin Menninger's "Flowering Trees of the World for Tropical and Warm Climates" (published in 1962) Menninger notes that "Southern California had a flurry of excitement in 1953 over the first spectacular flowering of twin trees in front of the John W. Harris residence in Los Angeles. The trees, 15 to 20 feet high and as much across were Robinsonella cordata, with Hibiscus-like flowers - small, bright purple, in dense clusters. Through February and March that year, both trees flowered profusely, giving a "blue cloud" effect. Los Angeles flower lovers were wild when they discovered that no plants were available, and they would have to wait until nurserymen could grow some." Menninger also noted that Paul Carpenter Stanley (1884-1963), the tropical plant specialist at the U.S. National Museum and Field Museum of Natural History and author of the "Trees and Shrubs of Mexico" thought highly of this plant and put it "high on the list of the most beautiful Malvaceae". In Santa Barbara there are only two known trees of this species, one in Franceschi Park and the other in Orpet Park, both planted around 1958. Some credit Dr. Franceschi (Dr. Emanuel Orazio Fenzi) with the introduction of this tree but records indicate that this plant did not make it into the park bearing Franceschi's name until many decades after he left Santa Barbara in 1913 and his subsequent death in Tripoli in 1924. Peter Riedel, a partner of Dr. Franceschi wrote a landmark but unpublished manuscript titled "Plants for Extra-Tropical Regions: A catalog of the plants that are, have been, or might be grown where the orange and the avocado thrive, including brief mention of others every plantsman should know". This was published after Riedel's death in 1952 and is an incredible work that documents much of the plant introduction work that took place in California around the turn of the 20th century. Riedel very specifically notes those plants that were introduced by Dr. Franceschi, including another species of Robinsonella, the white flowering Robinsonella edentula. Riedel does list Robinsonella cordata in his book but without crediting Dr. Franceschi and notes that it "is of Durango to Puebla and Oaxaca in Mexico a 4.5-9 m tree with 4-13 cm ovate cordate leaves, not lobed but crenate-dentate, long acuminate, loosely stellate pubescent beneath, the 1.5-2.5 cm petals white or purplish." The tree at Franceschi Park was planted in 1958 and may well have been planted by City Arborist and park caretaker Will Beittel, who also authored a book about Franceschi titled "Dr. F. Franceschi, Pioneer Plantsman" . Our plants are vegetatively propagated from a plant received from Dylan Hannon, Curator of the Huntington Conservatory, from cuttings he took from an older tree at the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum (#56-860-P), very possibly a sister seedling to those in Santa Barbara. A tree planted at the Fullerton Arboretum in 2000 by Chris Barnhill is from cuttings from the tree in Orpet Park and is now well over 20 feet tall. Photos on this website of this tree at Fullerton Arboretum provided by Ken Greby.  This description is based on research and observations of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in our nursery garden and in other gardens that we visit. We also incorporate comments received and appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have any additional information about this plant, particularly if they disagree with what we have written or if they have additional cultural tips that would aid others in growing Robinsonella cordata.
 
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