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Halesia carolina L.

Common name(s): Carolina silverbell, Snowdrop Tree
Family: Styracaceae
Type: Medium tree
Size: 30-40' high, 80' possible
Texture: Medium
Hardiness: Zone 4a USDA
Range: West Virginia . Florida . Oklahoma
Emerging Flowers
Select for a larger image!
Introduction:

Once again we're looking at a plant that's just not too common in the nursery trade. I'm not sure why exactly maybe it's because the pendulous white bell-shaped flowers are too dainty to be appreciated by just anyone. Or maybe it's part of a lobby from the pesticide manufacturers. You can't sell plants that don't have any disease or insect problems if you expect to stay in the pest control business!

Seriously, Halesia carolina's relatively strict cultural requirements are a more likely explanation for its slow expansion into the trade. It's pickiest about acid soil, and like most plants from the Appalachians, likes a moist, well-drained location with a fair amount of humus. But if you can provide any conditions even resembling this, by all means, give it a shot! It's even worth it if your conditions are borderline; heck, we have them growing in East Central Illinois!

For those of you who are taxonomy buffs, this is yet another species that's all confused. For a while it was considered to be the same as Halesia monitcola, although it's now generally accepted that this species has slightly larger leaves and flowers. Halesia tetraptera was also considered to be another species a while back, but has now been removed as a species and thrown in with H. carolina. Halesia diptera is a separate species, and is identifiable by its 2-parted fruit (as opposed to the 4-parted fruit of the other species).

Foliage:

Leaves
Alternate and simple, the leaves tend to be elliptic in shape and between 2 to 5" long. They're fairly smooth on the dark yellow-green leaf surface, but are pale green and covered with short hairs beneath.

Taxonomic description:

Alternate, simple, ovate to ovate-oblong, 2 to 5" long and 1/3 to 1/2 as wide. Acuminate with cuneate or rounded base, serrulate or denticulate. Surface tomentose becoming glabrous, underside pubescent.

Flowers:

Halesia carolina has some of the daintiest spring flowers to be found. Subtly beautiful in the first weeks of May, the pure white flowers look like miniature bells in clusters of two to five on older wood.

Taxonomic description:

In lateral fascicles of 1-5, white to white tinged with pink; pedicels filiform, 1/2" to 1 1/2" long. Calyx 2" long at flowering, corolla 1/2 to 1" long. Ovary 4-celled.

Flowers
H. carolina flowers    

Select for a larger image!

Fruit:

Fruit I wish that I had a better picture of the fruit every time that I see them, it's too cloudy or dark for to get a decent photograph! Apparent in late fall after the leaves have fallen, these 4-winged fruit hang in clusters along the branches. They tend to fall off as winter progresses, but are mildly curious and present some interest in a normally drab gardening season.

Taxonomic description:

Oblong or obovoid 4-winged dry drupe, 1 1/2" long, green becoming light brown and containing 2 to 3 seeds.

Fall Color:

One of the earlier trees to lose its leaves, H. carolina is far from being a show-stopper. At best coloration will be a moderate yellow, but mottled yellow-green is more commonly found.

Bark:

This is one of the few trees to present interesting bark year-round. Although more noticeable in the winter months, the vertical fissures of gray, brown, and black that form into plates are quite effective against a dark background. Bark

Pathology:

There are few pest or disease problems with H. carolina.

Propagation:

var. rose
H. carolina var. rosea

Select for a larger image!
This species can be propagated by seed or cuttings, although cuttings have a much higher success rate.

If grown from seed, moist stratification must be used between 56° and 86°F for a period of 60 to 120 days, followed by a colder stratification period at 33° and 41°F for an additional 60 to 90 days. Studies appear to indicate that germination problems are strictly physical most likely the fruit wall is simply too thick.

Softwood cuttings are much easier and can usually produce 80 to 100% success. 1000 ppm IBA/50% alcohol is in the lower end of this range, while 2500 to 10,000 ppm IBA will push the success rate higher.

Culture:

A native to the Appalachians, this species is used to rich, well-drained, acidic soil with lots of organic matter. It will generally survive in soils with average moisture and moderate drainage, although alkaline soils will result in chlorosis.

This species is best transplanted balled and burlapped and has deep, wide-spreading lateral roots. It is also sensitive to drought, mine spoils, salt, and soil compaction, so unless you have "that perfect place" you may be better off selecting another species. But if you do have the right conditions, this tree is wonderful!

Suggested uses:

This is a perfect tree for shady corners or in woodland borders. It is best set off against a dark background (such as evergreens) as a specimen tree, although small group plantings can also be effective. Because of its requirements for high acidity, it is best underplanted with other acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons (which compliment it quite nicely).

Companion plants:

Magnolia acuminata, Carya ovata, Aesculus octandra, Liriodendron tulipifera, Oxydendrum arboreum, Pinus strobus, Fagus americana, Hamamelis virginiana.

Medicinal uses:

This species has no significant medicinal uses.

References:

  • Britton, Nathaniel Lord and Addison Brown. An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States and Canada, vol II. New York: Dover, 1970.
  • Dirr, Michael A. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland: Timber Press, 1997.
  • Dirr, Michael. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. Champaign: Stipes Publishing, 1990.
  • Griffiths, M. The Index of Garden Plants. Portland: Timber Press, 1994.
  • Hightshoe, Gary L.  Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1987.
  • Johnson, Warren T. and Howard H. Lyon. Insects That Feed on Trees and Shrubs. Ithica: Cornell University, 1994.
  • Krussmann, Gerd. Manual of Cultivated Broad-Leaved Trees & Shrubs, vol. II. Beaverton: Timber Press, 1976.
  • Rehder, Alfred. Manual of Cultivated Trees and Shrubs. New York: MacMillan Publishing.
  • Sinclair, Wayne A. et al. Diseases of Trees and Shrubs. Ithica: Cornell University, 1993.
  • Walters, Dirk R. and David J. Keil. Vascular Plant Taxonomy, Third Edition. Dubuque: Kendall / Hunt, 1977.
  • Wyman, Donald. Wyman's Gardening Encyclopedia. New York: MacMillan, 1986.

    • Christopher Lindsey is an avid horticulturalist, computer geek, and the President/CEO of Mallorn Computing, Inc.



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