Styracaceae is a small family of flowering plants in the order Ericales, containing 11 genera and includes Pterostyrax, Sinojackia, Halesia (the Silverbells of North America) and Styrax the genus. With such progeny as that, this is one beautiful family. And within the genus Styrax you are likely to encounter about six or so actually being grown around the world. Three have received AGMs, or Awards of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society, which is not a small feat and it speaks volumes about the inherent charm, and vigor, of the genus. And foremost of the genus is Japanese snowbell, or Styrax japonicus.

The one word that is most frequently used to describe Japanese snowbell is "elegant". Other popular adjectives are "polished" and "refined". No wonder Japanese snowbell has achieved so many awards on both sides of the Atlantic. And if you lived in a temperate climate zone, with a garden small enough to allow only one tree, this arguably, would be that one tree.

Japanese snowbell is a small deciduous tree that slowly grows from 20 to 30 feet tall after many years, a size easily accommodated in most gardens. It will typically have a rounded canopy and horizontal

branching and when the  lower branches are removed, it forms a lovely vase-shaped, shade tree. This size and form also render it a superb choice for courtyard or patio. In late spring or early summer these branches are clothed in pendant, fragrant flowers. The "bells" are quite showy and dance in the slightest breeze. In addition to the delicate bloom, the grey bark peels away to reveal rich, orange under-layers, providing a year round feature that is most noticeable in winter.

Finally, the glossy, emerald green leaves to 3 inches long develop nice autumn color: yellow, with red and pink streaks and can be quite showy.

Japanese snowbell is healthy and low maintenance and makes the ideal specimen tree. It will do best in full sun at the cooler end of its range and will benefit from partial shade in warm summer areas. It can grow in most any soil type as long as it well drained and not too alkaline. A slightly acidic soil is best. In England it should be grown along a south-facing wall. In the US it grows across the moderate middle of the nation, liking neither long hot summers nor harsh winters. It does quite well in New Zealand and parts of Australia.

As usual, a tree this special will not be found in the popular landscape nurseries but more likely in a specialty, mail-order, plant nursery.

Another AGM recipient is the lovely Chinese snowbell tree, Styrax hemsleyana.


Japanese snowbell

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