Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Mountain Silverbell - Halesia tetraptera   Ellis
Members of Styracaceae:
Only member of Halesia in NC.
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Section 6 » Order Ebenales » Family Styracaceae
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DistributionEssentially throughout the Mountains and the western Piedmont (except in most VA border counties). Scattered in the central Piedmont, east through the Uwharrie Mountains to the Pee Dee River (Richmond County). Extremely rare eastward into the northeastern Piedmont (Durham County) and western Coastal Plain (Cumberland County), where collected by H.A. Rankin who wrote "native" on the label.

This is a Southern Appalachian species that “bleeds” farther south to the Gulf Coast. It occurs north only to western VA, WV, and southern IL south to northern FL and MS.
AbundanceFrequent to common in the central and southern Mountains, but uncommon in the northern counties. Also frequent to locally common in the western third of the Piedmont, but infrequent in the central Piedmont though it can be locally numerous there. Generally very rare farther east, and absent over nearly all of the Coastal Plain and northeastern Piedmont.
HabitatThis species is often dominant in cove forests at lower elevations in the Mountains, rarely to mid-elevations. In the Piedmont, it favors “cove-like” mesic to rich forested slopes, such as Basic Mesic Forest or Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest. It also occurs in fairly rich soils along creek banks and floodplains.
PhenologyFlowers from March to May, and fruits from August to September.
IdentificationTo biologists in the western half of NC this is a familiar small deciduous tree, growing mainly to about 25-30 feet tall. When seen in spring, it is very easily identified by the abundance of dangling, snowy white “bells” of flowers scattered along the branches; each flower is only about 3/4-inch long, but when in bloom, hundreds of flowers are usually visible. The bark is also characteristic, being heavily marked with white or creamy stripes running along the main axis of the trunk and twigs. The leaves are not exceptional, however. They are alternate, elliptic to obovate, but with a distinct acuminate tip; the margins are minutely serrate along the margins, not obvious at a distance. They average about 4-5 inches long and about 2-3 inches wide and are dull above. The fruit is a bit showy in fall, being a hard, yellowish, dangling capsule that averages 1.5-2 inches long, with four distinct wings. If you run into a mystery small tree with medium to large elliptical leaves that are finely serrate, and with a distinct acuminate tip, check the bark to see if it is striped; the bark is usually a clinching mark when flowers or fruit are not visible.
Taxonomic CommentsFor most of the 20th Century, this species was named as Halesia carolina. Recent taxonomic work has now moved the former Little Silverbell (H. parviflora at that time) to the H. carolina scientific name; now, the former H. carolina [Mountain Silverbell] has the name of H. tetraptera.

Other Common Name(s)Common Silverbell, Carolina Silverbell [a confusing name now in that it might suggest the species involved is the former H. parviflora]
State RankS4
Global RankG5
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US Status
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B.A. SorrieNorth Fork Smith Creek, N of Sorrell Road, mesic slope, 18 Apr 2008. AnsonPhoto_natural
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