Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - Silverbell tree

Oooo, TPP's yellow tree peonies are in flower, but maybe he doesn't want to over do the peony thing (but here and here anyways) . No problem; this time of year lots of things are in flower.  At the back of our perennial garden is a spectacular young tree, a Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina). This is a great ornamental tree, native to SE North America, but completely hardy in Zone 5. They flower when quite young and are tolerant of some shade. TPP has blogged about a different genus in the same family (Styrax americana - American snowbell).  You get the idea, dangling white flowers are a thing in this family (Styracaceae - Storax family) and big bees love it. TPP also has a young Pterostyrax tree, but it hasn't flowered yet. Storax makes no sense as a common name because it's a reference to a medicinal resin from the appropriately named Liquidambar styraciflua (sweetgum) (note the specific epithet) which is in another family no matter which one this genus is now in. Seems there was some confusion way back when plant names were based on gum-resins. OK that's not your problem, but this is a highly recommended flowering tree. 


Anonymous said...

Dearest Phactor,

lovely plant and lovely photo - your garden must be a joy at the moment.

i think that the story about the name for the genus and the gum is rather more complex than you suggest. i think that the original 'storax' resin was derived from Styrax officinalis. Then some dodgy traders (in antiquity) started selling Liquidamber resin as storax, confused the market and it in time it took over.
Wikipedia has an informative article on this(under 'Styrax'). Reminds me of the Budweiser story...

Anonymous said...

One of the beautiful estates in Concord, Massachusetts had a wonderful Silverbell planted behind a stone wall near the roadside. It was worth detouring down that road in the spring just to admire the sight as the tree leaned out and spread its bells overhead. Mine was left behind, along with a Fringe Tree, a Sour Gum and acres of dogwood and rhododendron and I've mourned my loss for 35 years. Your garden sounds entrancing.

The Phytophactor said...

According to Plant Resins (Langenheim, 2003) storax is way more confusing with the resin originally coming from old world species of Liquidambar, including L. orientalis. Storax is from the Arabis assitirax meaning a sweet-smelling exudate. Apparently resins from the genus Styrax including S. benzoin should be called gum benjamin or benzoin. Resins from new world Styrax species were called estoraque in Latin America adding greating to the confusion. So yes, a very complicated story for certain.

Anonymous said...

Dearest phactor,

thanks for the reference - looks like a very interesting read....and i have a birthday coming up!