Other common name: Carolina silverbell
Planted in 1976 right near Oak Street, our mountain snowdrop tree (Halesia monticola) is thriving. Probably getting a good view of the North Shore Mountains helps. Its specific epithet ‘monticola’ means ‘dweller in mountains’.
Native to the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia, this deciduous tree can grow up to 27 m/80 ft. In the Great Smokey Mountains, it’s been known to reach 34 m/102 ft tall. Mountain snowdrop is the largest member of its genus, but it is usually smaller in cultivation.
The branches on older trees bend. You can see in the pictures our mountain snowdrop is doing exactly that. While rare in cultivation, this tree has flowers that are among the most attractive of native plants. Its pendulous bell-shaped flowers resemble snowdrops. They appear in large numbers in spring at the same time as the new leaves.
But it is wildlife that value mountain snowdrop the most. Buds and flower clusters are eaten by birds. Butterflies, bees, and other pollinators enjoy the nectar from the flowers. It is also a host plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Mourning Cloak, Eastern Comma, Red-spotted-Purple, and Viceroy butterflies. They lay their eggs on this tree knowing its leaves will keep their caterpillars well fed. Caterpillars are essential food for most newly hatched birds. With native host plant and bird numbers decreasing over the years, we need these trees more than ever.
The pictures were taken in bed 5 at VanDusen in spring.
Text and photos by Hughie Jones