Brings Native Beauty to Landscapes
Few native trees provide the ornamental landscape value as the
sourwood, Oxydendrum arboreum. Panicles of lily-of-the-valley-type
flowers followed by brilliant scarlet color in early fall make
this tree a highly desirable landscape specimen.
Sourwood, also known as sorrel tree or lily-of-the-valley tree,
is best known as an important source of honey for beekeepers.
It is a small, undergrowth tree that grows throughout the Piedmont
uplands and along Piedmont streams on well-drained lowland areas.
The showy tree is commonly seen along highways and edges of hardwood
forests of the Piedmont and the mountains.
Sourwood is among the latest of the trees to bloom each season,
with white, bell-shaped flowers appearing from late June to August.
The dense flower clusters resemble Japanese pieris, Pieris
japonica, except the panicles of the sourwood are longer and
more open. Maintaining this beautiful bloom in the fall against
scarlet leaves makes it a spectacular landscape plant.
Planted in dense shade, the tree develops a slender trunk and
small crown. Placed in the open landscape, it forms a short, often
leaning trunk which divides into several stout, ascending limbs
with an ornate appearance. As the tree matures, the bark becomes
dense and cork-like, another design attribute.
Growth of the tree is somewhat slow and the tree is extremely
difficult, almost impossible, to transplant from the wild. Your
best bet is to locate a nursery that has them in containers. Sourwoods
are native trees and may be difficult to locate, but the extra
effort will be worth it.
Raulston Arboretum (JCRA) is taking a look at the scarcity
of cultivars that exist for this common native species which remains
underrepresented in the home landscape. The JCRA views it as having
great potential and welcomes the chance to examine new introductions
that become available.
All photos by Robert E. Lyons