Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)
Heath Family (Ericaceae)
Sourwood is a deciduous, slow-growing, understory tree, reaching 30-70 feet tall. It has a pyramidal to columnar crown of spreading and drooping branches. The trunk usually leans. The deeply furrowed, blocky bark is grayish brown, tinged with red. Twigs are bright red and green and glabrous. The alternate bright green to dark green leaves are elliptical to oblong and glossy and have finely toothed margins. They turn deep red (typical) to maroon to plum in the fall before dropping off in late fall. Borne in numerous, terminal, nodding, elongated, one-sided clusters, the small urn-shaped flowers are white and fragrant. They are very popular with bees and other insects. Sourwood honey is a highly prized local product. Juice from its blooms is used to make sourwood jelly. Flowers in mid-summer. The persistent fruit is a small capsule, releasing very tiny, 2-winged seeds in the fall. The wood is reddish brown, with paler sapwood. It is heavy, hard, and close-grained, and will take a high polish. Found in well-drained woodlands of bluffs, ravines, and hills and clearings in the eastern United States, mostly in the southeastern United States. Most commonly found on rocky wooded slopes in the Appalachian Mountains. Prefers moist, acidic, well-drained soils and full sun to partial shade. Its leaves have an acidic taste. Young leaves are edible. Has been used as an ornamental tree, though does not tolerate pollution, soil compaction, and root disturbance well. Also known as sorrel tree and lily of the valley tree.
Listed as endangered in MD and threatened in IN.
Copyright Brett Miley