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Big-leafed Storax Styrax obassia

Other Common Name(s):

Phonetic Spelling
STYE-racks oh-BAY-see-uh
Description

The fragrant snowbell is a large-leaved deciduous flowering tree. This beautiful tree grows to a height of 20 to 30 feet and has an upright and pyramidal habit when young and then becomes rounded with age. It gets its common name from the 6- to 8-inch-long racemes of fragrant and showy white flowers that appear in late spring to early summer. Blooming after the leaves emerge, the flowers' beauty can be hidden by the foliage.  After flowering, drupes are formed. They may be present into late autumn.  

This tree is native to Japan, Korea, and Manchuria. It was first introduced into cultivation in 1870. The genus name, Styrax, is Greek in origin and references resin-producing plants. The epithet, obassia, is a Japanese name.

Growing best in well-drained, acidic soil, it can be planted in the sand, clay, or loam-based locations.  It does not do well when soil is compacted.  In cooler planting zones, protection from winter winds is required. The leaves and flower buds can be damaged by frost. In the warmer zones, full sun is not recommended.  Locate in an area that receives some protection from the hot summer sun. It is moderately drought tolerant, once established.

The bark is smooth and gray and older specimens can experience exfoliation which reveals a showy inner layer.  This orange layer will often provide winter interest. Its leaves are bold, dark-green, ovate, pubescent on the undersides, and up to 8 inches long. The fragrant bell-shaped flowers have showy golden yellow stamens. The fruits appear in late summer as silvery-green round to oval drupes.

To control the shape of this tree, it is best to prune it in the winter.  To achieve a more shrub-like form, prune annually by cutting the top back in the late summer to about one-half of its height.  For a multi-stemmed habit is recommended to cut back the plant by one-half every 2 to 3 years.  A tree form can be accomplished by removing any upward-growing branches. This should be accomplished in the winter months. As the plant ages, it will tend to droop, requiring pruning for clearance underneath.

The beautiful fragrant snowball tree is one of the most underused trees in the landscape. Consider this tree as a small specimen in your home landscape or as a woodland understory tree.

Seasons of Interest:

Bark:  Winter     Bloom:  Spring       Foliage:  Spring, Summer and Fall      Fruits:  Fall and Summer

Quick ID Hints:  

  • fragrant and flowering tree with a pyramidal to rounded habit, measuring 20 to 30 feet tall and 15 to 25 feet wide
  • smooth gray bark and has orange-brown vertical fissures (older trees exfoliate)
  • large, bold, dark green leaves with pubescence on the undersides
  • fragrant, drooping bell-shaped white to creamy colored flowers with golden stamens in late spring to early summer
  • fruits are 3/4-inch round to oval, silvery-green drupes that appear in clusters in late summer

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  No significant disease or pest issues.  The foliage and flower buds are susceptible to frost injury in late winter and early spring.

VIDEO created by Andy Pulte for “Landscape Plant Identification, Taxonomy and Morphology” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Tennessee.

 

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Tags:
#showy flowers#deciduous#fragrant flowers#specimen#white flowers#shrub#spring flowers#winter interest#understory tree#flowering tree#street tree#multistemmed#drupes#spring interest#multitrunked#deciduous tree#exfoliating bark#winter garden#shrub borders#dense growth#broadleaf#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#showy flowers#deciduous#fragrant flowers#specimen#white flowers#shrub#spring flowers#winter interest#understory tree#flowering tree#street tree#multistemmed#drupes#spring interest#multitrunked#deciduous tree#exfoliating bark#winter garden#shrub borders#dense growth#broadleaf#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Styrax
    Species:
    obassia
    Family:
    Styracaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Japan, Korea, and Manchuria
    Wildlife Value:
    This tree provides shelter for wildlife.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Easy to Grow
    Fragrance
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Dimensions:
    Height: 20 ft. 0 in. - 30 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 15 ft. 0 in. - 25 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Ascending
    Erect
    Open
    Oval
    Pyramidal
    Rounded
    Vase
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Coarse
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    24-60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8b, 8a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Drupe
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruits are fleshy, silvery-green, and oval to round drupes that measure 3/4 inch in length. They appear in late summer.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Cream/Tan
    Gold/Yellow
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Raceme
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Bell
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    The flowers are white to creamy-white with golden yellow stamens on 4 to 8-inch drooping racemes.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Dentate
    Entire
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are bold, large, dark green, 4 to 8 inches in length, and have arching veins on the leaf surface. They are softly pubescent on the underside. They taper to a point. Their fall color is yellow.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Gray
    Light Brown
    Light Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Exfoliating
    Fissured
    Smooth
    Bark Description:
    The bark is smooth and gray to gray-brown. It may be marked with shallow orange-brown vertical fissures.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Form:
    Zig Zags
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are green to reddish-brown. This multi-trunked plant can be trained to grow with a single trunk.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Coastal
    Lawn
    Meadow
    Patio
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Cottage Garden
    Garden for the Blind
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Accent
    Border
    Flowering Tree
    Screen/Privacy
    Shade Tree
    Small Tree
    Specimen
    Understory Tree