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Carolina Silverbell

October 1, 2020

Tree of the Month

Halesia tetraptera

The Carolina silverbell is native to the mid-Atlantic states down the Appalachians south to Florida. In the wild it is an understory tree growing 30-40 feet in height and 20-30 feet wide. Typically, it has a rounded to spreading pyramidal habit with a single stem, but sometimes has multiple stems or branches low to the ground. It prefers a moist rich loamy soil with some shade and will struggle with droughty or high pH soils. The bark is an attractive grayish purple with white vertical stripes when young turning darker gray to black with age and having deep furrowed ridges. Leaves are 3-5” long and ovate with a pointed apex. A medium green in summer they turn a nice yellow in fall. The main attribute is their white bell-shaped flowers that emerge in the spring about the same time as our native dogwood is flowering, late April to mid-May depending on your location. The flowers are best viewed from under the tree since they hang down on pendulous stems of 2-5 downward facing flowers with yellow anthers resembling the clapper of a bell. The flowers are fragrant and are attractive to pollinators, which can be helpful if you also grow fruit trees, as they would flower at the same time. The fruit of all varieties of silverbell (Carolina, double flowering, mountain, etc.), is a four-sided winged fruit resembling the head of a medieval weapon, that is unique to the Halesia genus. Once the flowers fade, the green 2-2.5” fruits develop and gradually turn to a light brown in the fall and can be a great identification feature during the winter months. Highly resistant to most disease and insect pests, Carolina silverbell is a great native species with year-round interest. It is an ideal plant for a shade garden mixed with larger trees and rhododendrons and azaleas.

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