What is Halesia?

Mary McMahon

Halesia is a genus of flowering plants and trees native to North America and parts of Asia. Members of this genus are sometimes known as silverbells or snowdrop trees, reference to their bell-shaped and very distinctive flowers. Halesia is extremely fussy about growing conditions and is not widely cultivated, but nurseries do carry seedlings in regions where the plants are known to grow. People can also obtain seeds and cuttings from other gardeners if they are interested in growing a member of this genus.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The genus is relatively small. Halesia species produce simple ovate green leaves and are deciduous, losing their trees in the fall and leafing out again in the spring months. The flowers appear in mid-spring and are white to pale pink in color. They fade quickly, usually after two to three weeks, and dry drupes develop from the fertilized blooms. Depending on the species, a plant may have a shrubby growth habit or develop into a full-sized tree.

Halesia can be grown as a specimen planting in the garden, or used to create a hedge or privacy barrier. Members of this genus are relatively subtle and may be overlooked by gardeners interested in flashier plants with long-lasting blooms, but they can be pleasant and visually interesting garden features. Gardeners may pair them with bulbs and small plants to offset the delicate flowers, or allow them to grow in isolation.

Members of this genus require well-drained, acidic soil worked with humus to grow. They are not drought tolerant and require consistent, even watering. Although they are particular about growing conditions, once established, they can be very hardy. Halesia is resistant to many diseases and insect pests and can be a good choice for a low maintenance garden or a garden where people are trying to avoid the use of chemical treatments on their trees and plants.

Propagation from cuttings tends to be the most efficient. A gardener with an existing plant may allow interested people to take cuttings by request, and people can also buy cuttings and slips from nurseries. Growing from seed is also an option if cuttings are not available, although seeds do not always breed true to the parent plant. Halesia needs a sunny to partially shady area of the garden and if it is well maintained, it can live for decades, sometimes growing quite large. Pruning will help the plant keep its shape.

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