A deciduous tree often 80 to 100 ft high in the wild, with a trunk 3 ft in diameter and free of branches for more than half its height. It grows at altitudes of not less than 3,000 ft on the mountains of the S.E. United States where, according to Sargent, it is an important timber tree. Botanically it is evidently very nearly related to the well-known snowdrop tree, H. carolina, differing in its larger flowers, larger fruit, and of course in size, for H. carolina rarely attains more than one-third its stature and is indeed more usually a shrub with us than even a small tree. H. monticola is distinct also in its bark, which separates from the trunk in large, loose, plate-like scales, whereas the main stem of H. carolina has a close bark with only small appressed scales. The leaves scarcely differ from those of H. carolina in shape or size. When unfolding they are downy above and beneath, but once unfolded they are glabrous above and the undersides too become glabrous apart from scattered hairs on the midrib and main veins. The flowers are 3⁄4 to 1 in. long and up to 1 in. or even slightly more wide at the mouth. Fruits 13⁄4 to 2 in. long, 1 in. wide.
The distribution of H. monticola is given by Sargent as western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and western Georgia. It gives way westward to var. vestita Sarg., which is distributed from North Carolina to Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. In this variety young leaves are densely coated beneath with white wool and remain downy beneath even at maturity. The flowers in this variety are sometimes flushed with rose (f. rosea Sarg.).
H. monticola was first separated from H. carolina as late as 1913, and then only as a variety. It was given specific rank by Sargent in 1922.
This beautiful tree is fast-growing and flowers when young. Some specimens are of conical habit with well-developed single or double leaders, but others have made bushy crowns and are unlikely ever to become tall trees.
So far as is known there are no grounds for the belief that the var. vestita has larger flowers than the typical variety, the difference between them being only in the indumentum of the leaves, which is really of no horticultural significance. The tree that received an Award of Merit in 1958 when shown by the Crown Commissioners is referable to the var. vestita and has large flowers. But there are glabrous-leaved trees just as fine, and some examples of the var. vestita have rather small flowers, both varieties being variable in this respect.