Carolina Silverbell Plant Profile

Carolina Silverbell Blossom

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The Carolina silverbell is a deciduous tree or large shrub that bears pretty white bell-shaped flowers in April and early May. The plant naturally forms multiple stems; it can be grown in that fashion as a large shrub, or trained into a tree form by removing all but one central trunk. This plant is a good choice for woodland borders or as a specimen lawn tree, and rhododendron shrubs are often planted beneath its canopy.

The ovate-shaped leaves, 2 to 5 inches long, are green in summer, turning shades of yellow in autumn. The bell-shaped flowers hang in clusters; the fruits are drupes with four wings, starting out green but changing to a papery brown as they mature and dry out.

In landscaping, choose a location where you will be able to stand under the tree or otherwise look upward to it, as this is the best way to see the flowers. Carolina silverbell is a good tree for attracting bees, which can be especially helpful if you grow fruit trees.

This member of the Styracaceae family is classified as Halesia carolina, but you may also see Halesia tetraptera used. The name Halesia was given in honor of Stephen Hales, a clergyman from England who contributed to the world of botany and other sciences.​

Botanical Name Halesia carolina or Halesia tetraptera
Common Names Carolina silverbell, little silverbells, silver bell, opossum-wood, common silverbell, mountain silverbell or snowdrop-tree
Plant Type Deciduous flowering tree or large shrub
Plant Size 15 to 40 feet tall, 1 to 35 feet wide; ca grow to 60 feet in native habitat
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Medium moisture, well-drained soil
Soil pH 5.0 to 6.0
Bloom Time April
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zone 4 to 8 (USDA)
Native Area West Virginia to Florida to eastern Oklahoma
Flowers of a Carolina silverbell, Halesia carolina.
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How to Grow Carolina Silverbell

Plant Carolina silverbell in fairly moist, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade, in a location that is somewhat sheltered. It is generally planted from container-grown specimens, as seeds take a long time to germinate.

Carolina silverbell prefers acidic soil and will not thrive in alkaline conditions. Where necessary, soil can be amended to create the proper acidic conditions, but this will need to be repeated over the life of the plant.

Light

Carolina silverbell grows best in part shade conditions but will also do well in full sun.

Soil

This tree prefers medium-moisture, well-drained soil that is somewhat acidic—it grows well in conditions similar to those azaleas and rhododendrons. If soil conditions are not acidic enough, the tree will turn yellow with chlorosis.

Water

Carolina silverbell likes fairly moist soil, so dry conditions will call for frequent irrigation, especially when the tree is young. Once established, it has a moderate tolerance for drought.

Temperature and Humidity

This plant's native habit is moist, protected forest coves in the lower Appalachian Mountains, and it will do best in a location that mimics those conditions. Extreme heat and dryness stress the plant, especially when it is young.

Fertilizer

Give this plant an organic fertilizer when you plant, then each spring until the tree is fully established. After this, no feeding is necessary.

Propagating Carolina Silverbell

You can propagate new trees by taking softwood cuttings or planting the seeds. The best time to take softwood cuttings is June. Treat the branch cuttings with a rooting hormone, then root them in pots of growing medium that are enclosed to increase humidity. The cuttings can normally be planted in the landscape the following spring.

If you are trying to germinate seeds collected from the drupes, the USDA Forest Service suggests that the seeds be stored from 2 to 3 months in warm, moist conditions at 70 to 80 degrees F, followed by a similar period of cold stratification at 34 to 41 degrees F. Even with this treatment, the seeds may have difficulty germinating. Some people report that seeds can take up to two years to germinate.

Varieties of Carolina Silverbell

If you want a variety with larger flowers, look for ‘Wedding Bells’ or the H. magniflora variety. For pink flowers, plant ‘Rosy Ridge’, 'Rosa', or ‘Arnold Pink’. If you like variegated leaves, ask for ‘Silver Splash’ or 'Variegata'.

Pruning

This plant may form multiple trunks, so choosing one as a central leader when it is in its early years and pruning away the lower branches can help give this a tree form. As with any tree, damaged or diseased branches should be removed