Plant Guide > Trees > Heaths > Sourwood or Sorrel Tree

Sourwood or Sorrel Tree

Sourwood or Sorrel TreeSourwood, Sorrel Tree (Oxydendrum arboreum, DC.)-A slender-stemmed tree, 15 to 60 feet high, with oblong, roundtopped head. Bark smooth, reddish grey, scaly. Wood reddish brown, heavy, fine grained, hard. Buds axillary, small, partly hidden, red. Leaves alternate, deciduous, membraneous, oblong or lanceolate, entire, 3 to 6 inches long, smooth.

Flowers, June or July, perfect, in panicles, 7 or 8 inches long, of racemed white bells, narrowed and frilled at the tops. Fruit a downy capsule, 5-celled; seeds numerous, needle-like. Preferred habitat, moist woods.

Distribution, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana; south to Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas. Uses: Ornamental tree, valued for its flowers and vivid scarlet autumn foliage.

This little deciduous tree, whose sour-tasting twigs and leaves temporarily assuage the thirst of the hunter lost in Southern woods, deserves mention for this, even if it had no other redeeming traits. Besides, the tree is beautiful in its bronze-green spring foliage and its long compound racemes of tiny, bell-shaped flowers, and later, in its autumnal robes of vivid scarlet.

It is a heath in all its characters recognisable by its prim little flower bells and the dry little capsules that succeed them. Hardy as far north as Boston, it is occasionally seen in American gardens, and in western and central Europe.