Oxydendrum arboreum or the sourwood tree is a medium-sized deciduous tree native to North America with glossy, dark green leaves. In autumn, its foliage ranges from red to reddish-purple or sometimes yellow. The sourwood tree blooms in mid-summer with small, white, drooping flowers that resemble lilies of the valley. Sourwood flowers are long-lasting and may remain even as the foliage changes colors in the fall.
Where to Plant
Sourwood plants prefer acidic to alkaline soil. They’re resistant to drought and do well in moist clay, loamy or sandy soil with good drainage. Sourwood trees grow in Zones 5 through 9 and do well in full sun through the partial shade. For the best fall coloration, it should be planted in full sun.
The tree is sensitive to root disturbance, pollution, salt, and alkaline soils. It's highly resistant to insect pests as well as disease.
A mature sourwood tree stands 25' to 30' tall.
It makes a good ornamental tree as a feature in a garden, as a complement to larger trees or in a small cluster in an open area. A slow- to medium-growing plant, the sourwood tree requires little maintenance after planting provided that excess water is drained away from its roots. Plant it near Nyssa sylvatica, the black gum tree, for striking color contrast.
Sourwood trees attract bees when they’re in bloom during the summer. The honey that bees produce from sourwood nectar is rare but reputed to be delicious. Leaves are acrid and unpalatable to people, although they’re sometimes used as a thirst-quencher by hikers. All year long, deer are attracted to the twigs and leaves. The tree provides shelter for small mammals.