Toona sinensis 'Flamingo'

Pink Flamingo

by Andrew Keys on April 25, 2012

One of my earliest posts here was a wishlist post about this crazy tree. I never really thought I’d find a place for it, or that it would find its way to me.

But it’s here. It’s here. This is Toona sinensis ‘Flamingo,’ or Chinese toon tree, one of my garden’s class of 2012. Yes, ‘Flamingo’ toon is this color when it leafs out in the spring, which is to say it’s a blazing, retina-searing pink. What they don’t tell you is that, as it fades to green, it undergoes the most fantastic metamorphosis with a whole palette of pale, peachy yellows in between, which you KNOW is a plus in my book. It is an absolute confection. My friend Susan Morrison captured that metamorphosis perfectly when she couldn’t help but notice a fantastic Toona at the UC Davis Arboretum a couple of weeks ago. Thanks for the great photos, Susan!

Now, I lean more toward tranquility in my palettes than this plant lends itself to, but I also believe in the power of design objects as class clowns. If a tree grows at the crossroads of uniqueness and whimsy, it’s either ‘Flamingo’ or this tree. (Y’all, I just bought a bunch of lobster buoys too. Buoy toon tree FTW.) The great thing about ‘Flamingo’ toon as a design object is that its craziness is ephemeral, since that pink fades to yellow and then green. I love comedy in other people’s gardens, but for my part, if the class clown is in my face every day, I’m gonna get sick of it, and fast. A clown that has its moment and fades into the chorus, with an elegant, “I didn’t know you had it in you” curtain call in between, is perfect.

I’d also be lying if I didn’t cop to the fact that I planted it where the world would see, and I’m psyched for the shock value. How could I not be?

This is a hard to find tree in the U.S. (easier in the UK, Europe, and New Zealand, where apparently there’s one on every corner). I found it online last year at Greer Gardens, and the folks told me I got one of the last ones, because they can no longer find a supplier for it. But fear not: Cistus Nursery is doing mail order now, and it’s on their list.

Name: Toona sinensis ‘Flamingo’
Hardiness: Zones 5-9
Best features: Duh. Bright pink new leaves in spring that later fade to green.
Comes from: parent plant comes from Eastern Asia
Sources: Cistus Nursery

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