St. Charles Herald-Guide

Silverbell is great, underused native tree

LSU AgCenter News - March 16, 2012

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Kyle Huffstickler and Allen Owings

 

Silverbells comprise several species of native trees that are attracting increased interest in the southeastern United States. The two-winged silverbell (Halesia diptera) is one of our many smaller-growing native tree species that should be considered for inclusion in a native landscape plan.

Silverbells most commonly are recognized by bell-shaped, drooping flowers from early to midspring in Louisiana. Sometimes the two-winged silverbell is called the "snowdrop tree."

Native across portions of South Carolina, the Florida panhandle, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and southeast Texas, the silverbell is most often found as an understory tree in hardwood and pine forests. It occurs in wetter sites, such as swampy areas and along stream banks. Fruit of the silverbell is two-winged – which resulted in its name. When fruit is in the immature, green stage, it is attractive to wildlife, primarily squirrels. The fruit is 1 1/2-2 inches long, matures in late summer or early fall and typically is dark brown.

The drooping, white flowers of the two-winged silverbell are four-lobed and covered with fine hairs. Clusters of drooping flowers occur in groups of three to six on long stalks from the previous year’s growth. Significant flowering begins on 3- to 5-year-old trees. Hummingbirds are attracted to silverbell flowers. A botanical variety of two-winged silverbell native to Florida has larger flowers. Two-winged silverbell has a moderate-to-fast growth rate the first few years in the landscape. A typical mature height is 25-30 feet with a trunk diameter of 6-8 inches. Canopy spread is about 20-30 feet. Some trees in Louisiana have surpassed the average reported height.

Consider using silverbells in your landscape. Many experts recommend them as a substitute for dogwoods, which have been doing poorly in Louisiana over the past few years.