04 May ‘Evening Light’
One of the most beautiful trees you will ever come across in a landscape is Japanese Snowbell, Styrax japonicus. A gorgeous tree native to Japan, China and Korea, Styrax grows twenty to thirty feet tall with an equal spread. Perfect for residential landscapes, this is one of those quintessential trees that will impress you in every season. However, despite all that it offers, it has never really become mainstream with the likes of dogwood, redbud and cherry types.
Japanese Snowbell has showy, mildly fragrant, waxy white flowers in May and June. These bell-shaped flowers are held below medium to dark green leaves and are as beautiful as they are reliable from year to year. The flowers yield to greenish-brown, olive-shaped drupes which can last into the fall. This extraordinary understory tree has revealing bark as well. Gray-brown smooth bark, eventually reveals irregular orange-brown markings, in shallow fissures. This is an instant “give away”, on older specimens, when trying to identify trees in the winter months. And while the fall color is usually insignificant, there are times when yellow and red hues decide to make themselves known. A tree with very little insect or disease problems, it is closely related to another personal favorite of mine, Silverbell, Halesia. Developing a broad, flat-topped canopy over time, Styrax is perfectly suitable for patio areas, offering a natural umbrella canopy for you to sip cocktails under. Always appreciate of full sun to partial shade and moist well-drained soil, there are many cultivars or varieties to be on the lookout for. However, the latest and greatest of them all, in my opinion, is ‘Evening Light’.
Styrax japonicus ‘Evening Light’ is one of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen. Many of the requirements and attributes are similar to the genus and species, but there are very exciting differences. For one, given that this tree is so new to the trade, the height and width expectations vary from grower to grower. However, most agree that the overall stature of ‘Evening Light’ is roughly half of the genus and species. In addition, the white blooms of this cultivar are “ultra-fragrant” (waysidegardens.com) and held on maroon stems. And what really ties this all together is its dark purple, almost black foliage with shaded green tones. Touted as able to withstand extremes in both heat and cold, a great gardening trick for this tree is keeping it moist throughout the growing seasons. Having said this, ‘Evening Light’ is reported to rebloom in the early fall if you manage to do just that. Now that I have your attention with this spectacular new tree, here’s the catch, supply is extremely limited! We have Henry Kolster of the Netherlands to thank for the chance seedling he found.
Another reason for selecting ‘Evening Light’, should you want a lovely chocolaty-purple leaved tree, is you could do away with ‘Thundercloud’ Plum, Prunus cerasifera ‘Thundercloud’. Perhaps one of the most popular purple leaved trees offered to gardeners today, this tree is laden with problems. Susceptible to a large number of insect and disease issues, black knot (Apiosporina morbosa) is something we diagnose, almost on a weekly basis, at our garden center.
Styrax is full of great cultivars to choose from, ‘Pink Chimes’ being towards the top of the list. A gorgeous, small, pink flowering tree with an upright habit is one of the best and easiest to secure. ‘Emerald Pagoda’, a variety introduced by the late, great Dr. JC Raulston and the U.S. National Arboretum, has almost all of its attributes larger than other types. The tree and leaves are larger, leathery foliage, larger flowers and significant heat tolerance all make this a favorite for many experienced gardeners. Finally, ‘Snowcone’ is a symmetrical, perfect pyramid with fine texture and dark green foliage. J.F. Schmidt & Son Co. introduced ‘Snowcone’ and it is represented as being resistant to twig dieback.
Japanese Snowbell, Styrax japonicus may not have the type of name that rolls easily off your tongue. However, this handsome tree, and its many varieties, can and will impress you throughout the year. Given all that Styrax offers, I continue to be buffaloed by the fact that this tree remains on the “unknown tree” list. A list of trees that many horticultural professionals admire and wish the public would too. Trees like Stewartia, Halesia, Maackia and Eucommia are usually on this list too and are subject to past and