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What is a Japanese Snowbell?

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  • Written By: Deneatra Harmon
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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Styrax japonicus, better known as a Japanese snowbell, belongs to the Styracaceae family of trees and shrubs. This garden tree grows to great heights and its foliage spreads in a horizontal pattern. Considered to be a deciduous tree, the Japanese snowbell requires loamy soil, at least some lighting and cool minimum temperatures to bloom by summer. The deciduous tree is also best known for its showy flowers and unusual bark texture. The Japanese snowbell works well as an indoor or outdoor garden plant, and it comes in multiple cultivars.

Plants in the Styracaceae family are nicknamed the "silver bells" because they share the characteristic of forming bell-shaped flowers. More than 150 species exist. The plants also live in warm as well as cold temperatures, and they must be protected from wind to remain intact. The Japanese snowbell originally comes from Asian countries such as Japan, China and Korea.

Heights of the deciduous tree vary depending on planting locations. The snowbell grows upward to a height ranging from 8 feet to 30 feet (approximately 2.4 m to 9.1 m). The branches and leaves appear widespread, forming what appears to be a rounded or horizontal pattern that stretches out to 25 feet wide (approximately 7.62 m). Some gardeners of the Japanese snowbell may also want to trim or prune the lower branches of the tree to give it a neat, vase shape.

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U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones six through eight provide a fitting environment for the Japanese snowbell. Generally, the deciduous tree withstands any planting location where temperatures range from -10° Fahrenheit (-20.6° Celsius) to 20° Fahrenheit (-9.4° Celsius) and warmer. Seeds or cuttings are the common methods to plant the garden tree. Styrax japonicus tolerates sandy or clay soil that is well-drained, loamy, and acidic with a touch of alkaline. The snowbell also seems to follow flexible lighting requirements because it survives partial shade or partial to full sunlight.

In addition to horizontal branching styles, the deciduous Styrax features an interesting fissured bark texture, an alternating foliage arrangement, and some flower characteristics that help the plant stand out in a landscape. The oblong or oval leaves, which appear in alternating patterns on the branches, bloom green in the spring, change to yellow and red by the fall, then die back by the winter season. Ornamental flowers on the Japanese snowbell may be white, cream, pink, or even gray. Approximately three to six bell-shaped flower clusters appear on each stalk or branch.

Styrax cultivars are most likely to be found in highly visible areas. Smaller versions of the deciduous plant may be placed on patios, while some larger varieties may accent a lawn border. The garden trees may also line residential streets.

Gardeners may choose from a variety of Styrax japonicus cultivars. For example, "Pink Chimes" show hardiness in colder temperatures and bloom pink flowers. "Carillon" displays a weeping, or drooping, growth pattern. "Crystal" displays green foliage with shades of black. "Issai" grows faster compared to other species in the Styracaceae family.

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