Fragrant snowbell (Styrax obassia) is a beautiful small tree native to Japan, Korea, and Northern China. It is a deciduous flowering tree with four-season interest and not prone to pests or diseases. Yet fragrant snowbell is seldom found in gardens. In fact, it is one of the most underused trees in the landscape.
Here is what tree lovers are missing. Big and bold leaves that show up in early spring. Lemony-fragrant flowers that hang from the tree in late spring. Flowers that are white and bell-shaped with golden stamens. The buzz of bees attracted to their rich pollen and nectar. Silvery green drupes that dangle from the tree in late summer. Leaves a golden yellow in fall. Smooth, grey bark with orange-brown vertical fissures for any time but especially winter.
We have three Styrax obassia in VanDusen - all mature trees. The one in the winter picture is in bed 38C near Shaughnessy Restaurant. Another one is in bed 85 in the Korean Garden. The third tree is in bed 13C in the Winter Walk area.
There are two more species of Styrax at VanDusen. Japanese snowbell (Styrax japonicus) is spread throughout the garden. This is the species that ends up in most gardens. Plus one very special American snowbell (Styrax americanus) was planted in the spring of 2023. Lately this snowbell has been disappearing from its native habitat, southeastern USA. You can find it near the path around Roy Forster Cypress Pond. Our mature Styrax obassia nearby is hoping American snowbell will grow strong despite the bamboo lurking. The cypress knees and the duck in the picture will watch over it though.
Here is a link on Styrax species and its relatives from Doug Justice at UBC. We have several Styrax relatives at VanDusen. One of them is mountain snowdrop tree (Halesia monticola) - a sight to see and smell in bloom with its large flowers and their delicate scent.
Text and photos by Hughie Jones, except for the drupe and close-up flower pictures are from Bernheim Arboretum. The hanging flower picture is from the UBC Botanical Garden