Halesia tetraptera J.Ellis

Mountain Silverbell, Carolina Silverbell




Family: Styracaceae

Genus: Halesia

Category: Tree - Deciduous

Zones: 4 to 8

Size: To 30' tall and wide

Growth Rate: Moderate

Exposure: Sun, Filtered Sun, Part Shade


White bell-shaped flowers, nodding, clusters of 3 to 5, in early spring. Pear-shaped fruits with four wings. Good understory - container grown only.



Native to the southeast coast US, from Florida to Virginia.

Introduced to cultivation in 1756.

RHS First Class Certificate 1980, Award of Merit 1954.

Published in Philos. Trans. 51: 932 in 1761. [quote: The intent of this letter is to exhibit the characters of two new genera of plants, growing in Mr. Webb's garden, which Mr. Ellis calls after Dr. Hales of Teddington, and Dr. Garden, of Charlestown, South Carolina.* The

first of these is thus described by Dr. Garden, when he sent the specimens and seeds. (* It is the Halesia tetraptera of Linnaeus.]

This beautiful tree grows commonly along the banks of Santee river, and rises often to the size of middling mulberry-trees. I have seen it sometimes more southerly, near the small rills of water ; but of a much smaller size than that which grows on Santee. The wood is hard and veined ; the bark is of a darkish colour, with many irregular shallow fissures. The leaves are ovated and sharp pointed, with the middle depressed, growing alternately on short footstalks. The flowers hang in small bunches all along the branches, each gem producing from 4 to 8 or 9 flowers, bell-shaped, and of a pure snowy whiteness. As they blow early in the spring before the leaves appear, and continue for 2 or 3 weeks, they make a most elegant appearance. They are followed by pretty large four-winged fruit, which likewise hang in bunches, each containing 4 kernels that are very agreeable to the taste.

This tree is mentioned by Catesby, vol. i. p. 64 (Catesby's Natural History)

There is much confusion as to the accepted name. Linnnaeus named Halesia carolina in Syst. Nat., ed. 10 2: 1044 in 1759 writing merely "carolina. A. Halesia. Ellisii; Catesb. car. I. t. 64. Then in 1761 Ellis published H. tetraptera referring to Linnaeus and Catesby. In 1762, Linnaeus published H. tetraptera making no mention of H. carolina in Sp. Pl., ed. 2 636 but citing Catesby again. It seems clear to me that the intent was to name this plant H. tetraptera and that it should have been "Habitat in Carolina".

My Experience: 

I found a 4" pot with a 4' stick in it at the Jackson and Perkins outlet store in October 2009. It was $2 so I tried it. I potted it up to a 1 gallon and left it outside in the winter. It bloomed and leafed out - not many leaves but there was only one stem - the trunk with no branches. So I planted it out in spring 2010 and soon afterwards the deer ate the leaves. It died!

Sources of Information

© 2010-12 Lisa J. Miner