Common Name: Sourwood
Origin/Ecology: Native to eastern and southeastern United States
Habit: Understory tree, growing 20-25′ tall with a straight, slender trunk and narrow oblong crown.
Leaves: Finely-toothed, glossy green leaves (to 5-8″ long) are reminiscent of peach. Leaves have a sour taste, hence the common name. Leaves produce consistently excellent fall colour, typically turning crimson red.
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate.
Flowers and Fruit: Waxy, lily-of-the-valley-like, white flowers bloom on slender, drooping, one-sided terminal panicles (4-8″ long) in early summer. Flowers have a slight fragrance. Flower panicle stems remain in place as flowers give way to 5-parted dry capsules that ripen to silver-gray in september. Capsules contrast well with the red fall colour and provide continuing ornamental interest after leaf drop into winter. Flowers are quite attractive to bees. Sourwood honey is a highly prized local product.
Bark: Grey bark on mature trees is fissured, ridged and scaly.
Water Use, Soil: Best grown in acidic, moist, organically rich, well-drained soils. Intolerant of drought. Intolerant of urban pollution.
Exposure: Full sun. Tolerates part shade, but with somewhat diminished flowering and fall colour.
Landscape Uses: Beautiful small specimen flowering tree with multi-season interest for lawns, patios, shade gardens or open woodland areas.
Limitations: No serious problems. Leaf spot and twig blight infrequently occur.