Dombeya wallichii is covered in large, pendulous heads of white, pale pink or dark pink flowers in spring.
Dombeya wallichii is covered in large, pendulous heads of white, pale pink or dark pink flowers in spring. iStock

Take in special scent of the cupcake tree

Dombeya wallichii is a lovely flowering shrub, not very well known but easy to grow and wonderful to look at.

It can be grown as a large shrub or a small tree, reaching about 8m tall and about 6m wide unpruned.

It has large, heart-shaped, toothed leaves about 20-30cm long. In spring, it is covered in large, pendulous heads of white, pale pink or dark pink flowers.

Each individual flower looks a bit like a tiny single hibiscus (which is in the same plant family), and each head contains many small flowers. The flower balls hang on slender stems below the foliage, and are highly attractive to bees.

Dombeya wallichii has many common names, of course, including tropical hydrangea, thanks to its resemblance to hydrangea blooms, and pinkball tree, for obvious reasons. At the nursery, we have given it another name, cupcake tree, because the flowers smell delicious, just like a freshly baked cupcake.

Dombeyas occur throughout India, East Africa and Madagascar. They thrive in a sunny to partly shaded position, in soil rich in organic matter.

This is a plant that naturally wants to grow quite large, so it is probably not the best option for a long-term potted plant; it will be much happier and more attractive in the ground.

Dombeyas grow quickly, but they are very easy to prune. They would be a lovely choice for a smallish shade tree in a suburban garden, if you were prepared to commit to an annual prune to shape. Left unpruned, it will most likely grow as a tall, wide shrub.

Pruning is best done after flowering has finished. You might also like to snip off the spent flowers to encourage more to form.

Got a gardening question? Email maree@edenatbyron.com.au


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