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Silverbells

by Don Robinson

Halesia spp. is a deciduous shrub or small tree species to 35 feet tall.  It has two winter buds, the lower most bud is almost hidden by the leaf scar.  The leaf scar is crescent shaped.  The pith is diaphragmed and chambered between the diaphragms.  Pubescence, where evident, is stellate.  The leaves are alternate, simple, slender, short-petiolate, without stipules; blades are pinnately veined.  The young stems, axes of the florescence, flower stalks, and calyxes are sparsely to densely pubescent.  The flowers are showy, pendant, in fascicles or short racemes, bisexual, & develop from the axils of the leaf scars from the wood of the previous season as new shoots emerge.  The flowers are white overall and showy.  The fruit is a two to four winged dry pod that contains one to three seeds.

Two-winged silverbell

Halesia diptera is a tree reaching 35 feet in height which can flower at an early shrub stage.  The leaves are broadly oval, broadly ovate, or subobicular, 2 1/2 - 4 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 inches wide.  The leaf margins are irregularly dentate - serrate, teeth gland tipped, both top and bottom of the leaf surfaces are sparsely pubescent, the lower leaf surface is pale green.

The flowers are 5/8 - 1 1/4 inches long, bell shaped, deeply 4-lobed, white corolla in drooping clusters of three to six on long stalks on the previous years twigs, blooming in the spring.

The fruit is a long oblong pod with two wings that are brown when ripe.  The name 'diptera', means two winged, di - two, and pteron - wing.

This is a beautiful understudy tree that grows in mesic woodlands of bluffs, ravines, uplands, and on slight rises of stream and river flood plains.  It grows from Southeast South Carolina to western panhandle of Florida, Alabama, southern Mississippi to east Texas.

There is a variety of diptera called 'magniflora' that has larger flowers and grows in more of a mesic woodland habitat than the normal H. diptera.  It is also more restrictive in its range, growing in southwest Georgia, the panhandle of Florida and southeast Alabama.

Carolina silverbell  

Halesia carolina is a small tree with streaked bark.  The leaves differ from the previous species by being elliptic, oblong, or slightly ovate, 3 - 6 inches long and 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 inches wide, and finely saw toothed.  The leaf surfaces are sparsely pubescent (mostly when emerging) to glabrous, and the lower surfaces are mostly pubescent on major veins.

The flowers are bell shaped, with the lobes more rounded than on the species diptera, 1/2 - 1 inch long, and white (sometimes with a pinkish shade).  They are born on drooping clusters of two to five flowers per stalk.  They appear in the spring on the previous years growth.

The fruit is a 1 1/4 - 2 inch long pod with four wings and one to three seeds per pod, and are mature when brown.

This species of silverbell is more widespread than the two-winged silverbell. 

It occurs from southern West Virginia south to north central Florida, northwest to southern Illinois, and local to southeast Oklahoma.

It grows on wooded slopes in mesic forests, bluffs, ravines and wooded riverbanks.  It appears as far south as Citrus County, but I have suspicions that it may occur in the mesic forests of Hernando County.

Native plant nurseries throughout the state generally carry silverbells.  I have both species planted in a sandhill ecosystem and they are doing better that I expected them to do.  They have even made it through two dry spells with no setbacks.  I have them planted in part sun and heavily mulched with oak leaves.  They have bloomed and produced fruit, which became food for somebody before I could collect it.  These trees should do well in almost any situation  if given the right conditions.  Give it a try, and good luck!

 

Godfrey, R.K., and J.W. Wooten.  Aquatic and Wetland Plants of the Southeastern United States: Monocots and Dicots.  University of Georgia Press: Athens, GA.  1981

Godfrey, R.K., and J.W. Wooten.  Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Northern Florida and Adjacent Georgia and Alabama.  University of Georgia Press: Athens, GA.  1981  (The illustrations in the article are from this reference book).

Little, Elbert.  National Audubon Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region.  Knopf: New York, NY.  1980

April 1998

 

 

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