Unidentified Flowering Object: the Mysterious Teletubby Tree


What do you get when you cross a houseful of potted plants and a 2-year old fan of British children’s television programs?


Little Emily was thoroughly fascinated with the white plastic labels that identified each of the trees that I’d started from seed. She would pull each out in turn, and then return them to their pots…except that they didn’t always get back into the same pots from whence they sprung.



Chiltern Seed of England is my favorite supplier of unusual (and the more common) garden plants, and I’d purchased many exotic specimens to green my bright corner of Dresden.


I was pretty good at keeping after my little tag snatcher for a while, and remembering the Latin names to identify them. It always helps if you can associate a name with a memory trigger. In one case, the Teletubby character played a part. I’m sure that Dipsy had something to do with one of them. Dipsy gone? Was it this particular tree? That’s why I’m posting this for all to see!

Can you help us to identify this beautiful tree?


It is deciduous (meaning that it loses its leaves in the fall), and I know that the description in the catalog (1997 or 8 or so), promised edible fruit. It traveled tenaciously in its pot for several years until it was planted in situ in 2004. It seems quite content with hot dry summers, and cold wet winters; rewarding us by doubling in size in the last two years, now standing over 2 meters tall.


This winter was especially wet, and for the first time, we experienced a day of -10°C. Despite the severe weather, buds appeared for the first time last month, and now we’re celebrating gorgeous fragrant blooms. The bees love it as much as we do!


Could you please tell us the name of our exotic friend?


I was talking with a friend last night about investing in relationships.  We're such a transient bunch here in Aix, that it’s often, when we feel that we’re really getting to know one another, then it’s time to move on. It’s not until years later that you’ve weathered enough sunshine and storm to really know what you’re made of.


In that vein, the best way of knowing what kind of tree we’re living with is to wait until we see the fruit! The eternal storyteller said it best, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:16) Will I be eating Chocolate Pudding Fruit from a Diospyros digyna? One can only hope!


3 January, 2011


Well, all we know is that it tastes nothing like chocolate.


The fruits are very small with about half the dry interior containing a seed.


Now what?

June 2014


I'm so glad that I only tasted one 'fruit' because this is Melia azedrach--the Chinaberry tree. 


I have no idea how it ended up in my garden. Did it take over the original plant while still in its pot? There aren't any others for miles around, and none of the copious seeds have ever sprouted on our property. Meanwhile, we enjoy the spring scent, the busy bees, and delightful summer shade...

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