The Fragrant snowbell or Bigleaf snowbell (Styrax obassia) is a deciduous small tree or large shrub. The tree is indigenous to Japan and Korea. Leaves are large, broad, and fuzzy. The leaf stems hide the buds. In May to early June, fragrant bell-shaped white flowers hang in long chains among the tree’s foliage of large ovate-shaped dark green leaves. The flowers are replaced by light brown fruits that drop to the ground by late fall. The bark is smooth and becomes slightly cracked along the trunk with age. Introduced by Franz von Siebold to Europe in the 19th century and to North American commerce prior to 1887. Uncommon in cultivation today, but becoming more common in the Pacific Northwest. The Fragrant is known for producing a resin used in the incense and perfumery industry. Styrax comes from the classical Greek name for these resin-producing plants. The species epithet is a Japanese place name.
Common name: Fragrant Snowbell, Bigleaf Snowbell Tree
Scientific Name (family and order): Styrax obassia Siebold & Zuccarini (Styracaceae, Ericales)
Species Origin: North China to Japan
New Jersey Status: USDA not listed
Habit: Grows in moist woods; the trees open branches arch at the canopy to give it a round-headed apearance.
Habitat: Zones 5 – 8.
Trunk/Stem: Bark gray brown and smooth, becoming brown and vertically fissured with age.
Leaves: Deciduous, Simple, Alternate. Leaves very large, like Catalpa, 8” long, broad, fuzzy, orbicular; dark green and smooth above; blue-gray and densely hairy beneath; the largest leaves are carried at shoot tip; turning yellow in autumn. Leaf petiole swells at base to enclose the leaf bud.
Flowers: Perfect. Individually 1” long with 5-lobed corolla, white with yellow anther, fragrant, borne in horizontally spreading indeterminate racemes 6” long; the loose racemes hang beneath the leaves; often the racemes are hidden by the large leaves; early summer.
Fruits and seeds: Egg-shaped, gray and berrylike about ¾ “ covered by pale brown hairs; with single seed.