Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Suspect's Name: Hakuunboku

A bike path near our apartment is lined with citrus, evergreens, hydrangea, roses, as well as an assortment of grasses and plants. I presume that underneath runs an old canal now covered over by the path and nearby road. The path crosses the Tamagawa Josui, a larger canalway that in its day brought much-needed water down from the mountains west of Tokyo to the center of the city. Something is always in bloom or leafing out or fading from view, and benches and little tables dot the sides for pedestrians to loiter as they wish. It's also home to a few favorite vegetable stands, so I traverse it a fair amount.

I spotted this tree while out walking the other evening, and I suspect it's hakuunboku a.k.a Styrax obassia or Fragrant styrax. The silvery gray bark slides smoothly over the musculature of the trunk like a tight fitting sleeve, and tucked under it's veined oval leaves were these lovely white blossoms. If it is indeed hakuunboku, it is a tree native to Japan as well as Korea and China. (It's in the same family as Japanese snowbell (ego-no-ki) or Styrax japonicus.) I'd never noticed it in bloom before although I've always found the bark quite eye-catching. It reminds me of Ironwood, a.k.a. American Hornbeam Carpinus caroliniana, another smooth barked tree that I know from long walks on the family land in Michigan.

The blossoms pictured here should also be quite fragrant, although I confess I did not pause to sniff, only photograph. If they are indeed as delightfully smelly as they are purported to be I would suspect they are a pollinator favorite. I'd also like to think that the ever-increasing number of butterflies I see floating about the city find the tree a good home complete with a pleasant drink bar. Any ideas?

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