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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - March 09, 2012

From: Dover Plains, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Poisonous Plants, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Does Helasia diptera absorb toxic substances from Dover Plains NY
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Plants, Halesia carolina is described as absorbing toxic substances: herbicides, pesticides and pollutants from water, air and soil. Does Halesia diptera do the same? Thank you.

ANSWER:

We believe you may have misinterpreted the following paragraph from our webpage on Halesia carolina (Carolina silverbell):

"Warning: Raw seeds are poisonous and can be fatal to humans and animals. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a person’s age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plant’s different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil."

This is meant as a caution against consuming any part of this plant because they can absorb toxic substances and transmit them to a pet or child that chose to eat them; not that it could be used to clean or de-toxify any particular part of the environment.

Halesia diptera (Two-wing silverbell)Halesia tetraptera (Mountain silverbell) and Halesia tetraptera var. monticola (Mountain silverbell) have no such warnings on their webpage. We did some research to see if this trait was common to other members of the genus Halesia, and found none.  As you can see from this USDA Plant Profile Map, only Halesia tetraptera (Mountain silverbell) is native to New York State.

In short, these plants can absorb a small amount of pollutants for their own protection, but are not a solution to pollution. Also, the plants would be only too glad to pass those pollutants on to any organism swallowing them. However, if you were just concerned with whether it was safe to plant the Halesia tetraptera (Mountain silverbell), we could find no documentation that it was not. From Ohio State University, here is more information. Pictures

 

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