Sourwood belongs to the diverse Ericaceae plant family and is now considered to be the only member of the genus Oxydendrum, it is therefore monotypic. The Greek 'oxys' means sharp and refers to the sour or acid-tasting foliage which is alleged to slake thirst, provide a tonic, and act as a diuretic.

This is Sourwood, Lily of the valley tree, Sorrel tree, or Oxydendrum arboreum, a medium-sized, deciduous tree that may grow to 60 feet but is more typically found at 35 feet. The tree has a pyramidal form with drooping branches and an attractive rusty-brown bark. Sourwood has simple leaves to 10 inches long that are a glossy green. In autumn these pretty leaves turn brilliant shades of red, russet, gold and orange and even purple. Few trees can rival a Sourwood for fall foliage and its color is dependable even in warmer regions.

Sourwood’s other great attraction is the bloom. The tree is festooned with sprays of white lily-of-the-valley like flowers. These racemes are ten inches long and are held at the tip of each branch. These panicles weigh the branch down giving it a graceful weep that enhances the tree's elegant form. But the beautiful floral sprays are wonderfully fragrant and in its native North America they perfume the summer woods. Additionally these flowers are highly prized by the bees as is the honey that they produce from them prized by humans. And the attractive trunk and handsome shape give this deciduous tree interest even when the brilliant leaves have fallen and the sweet blossoms faded.

It has a steady rate of growth and would not over power an urban garden. It can take shade or sun, is reasonably drought tolerant and pest and disease free. It grows throughout most of North America, save the really coldest parts, and does well in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.



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