This underused Southern beauty deserves your attention anyhow.


It's not Bradford pear (barf). It's not flowering dogwood. It's not flowering cherry or crabapple. It is, however, among the prettiest and least commonly planted flowering trees native to the Southeast. It's called silverbell, named for the color and shapes of its blooms. If you have trouble growing dogwood or you correctly cut down your Bradford pear, silverbell would make an excellent alternative.

Two species of silverbell are offered by better garden centers. Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina) can grow 30 to 40 feet tall in the wild, but seldom gets that big in gardens. Trees have single or multiple trunks; garden centers usually sell single-trunk ones. Clusters of white, bell-shaped, half-inch long blossoms hang in tiers beneath the branches in spring, just as the leaves start to emerge. ‘Rosea' boasts pink flowers. The blooms give rise to unique four-winged seed pods that persist until winter. They remind me of starfruit with one fewer wing. Leaves turn yellow in fall.

Silverbell Blooms
Credit: Rip Weaver

Two-winged silverbell (Halesia diptera) is named for its two-winged seedpods. It grows 20 to 30 feet tall and is even showier than its cousin. Blooms of the popular selection, ‘Magniflora,' are 1-1/2 inches long. Its leaves turn yellow in fall too. That's ‘Magniflora' you see in the photos. Holly Cooper and I planted it beside the main drive at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Alabama about 10 years ago. The photos were taken this week, so hurry and take a look!

Plant silverbells in full to partial sun. Fertile, moist, acid, well-drained soil is important. Don't plant in hard clay. Give extra water during summer dry spells and mulch around the tree. Buy only trees grown in pots; balled-and-burlapped trees don't transplant well. They have no serious pests. Prune in late spring after they finish blooming. Carolina silverbell does well in USDA Zones 4 to 8 and two-winged silverbell in Zones 6 to 9. If local nurseries don't sell silverbells, order online from Woodlanders or Mail Order Natives.

So if you don't want to find the Grumpy Gardener in your yard with a chainsaw, make sure you plant a silverbell instead of a Bradford pear.