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Oxydendrum arboreum

Common Name(s):
Lily of the valley tree, Sorrel tree, Sourwood
Native Plants, Trees

The Oxydendrum arboreum is a beautiful small specimen flowering tree with multi-season interest for lawns, patios, shade gardens or open woodland areas. It is perhaps most commonly found on rocky wooded slopes in the Appalachian Mountains, often growing in combination with other heath family members (e.g., azaleas and rhododendrons) that share the same acidic soil preferences. In cultivation, it typically grows 20-25’ tall with a straight, slender trunk and narrow oblong crown. In the wild, it may reach 50-60’ tall. Gray bark on mature trees is fissured, ridged and scaly.

This tree is moderately salt tolerant.

Regions:  Mountain, Piedmont, Coastal Plains

Seasons of Interest: 

     Leaves:  Fall    Bloom:  Summer     Fruit/Seed/Nut:  Fall

Wildlife Value:  The Sourwood tree is moderately resistant from damage done by deer. The flowers are attractive to butterflies and other insects. Natural hollows in these trees are refuge for climbing reptiles and amphibians, bats and other small wildlife. Old fall webworm tents attract invertebrates that birds often eat during late fall and winter. Flowers are quite attractive to bees.

 Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems:  Leaf spot and twig blight infrequently occur on the Sourwood tree.

20-30 ft.
The Sourwood has waxy, lily-of-the-valley-like, white flowers that bloom on slender, drooping, one-sided terminal panicles (4-8” long) in early summer. The flowers have a slight fragrance. Flower panicle stems remain in place as the flowers give way to 5-parted dry capsules that ripen to silver-gray in September. Capsules contrast well with the red fall color and provide continuing ornamental interest after leaf drop into winter.
The Sourwood does its best grown in acidic, moist, organically rich, well-drained soils in full sun. It will tolerate part shade, but with somewhat diminished flowering and fall color. It is intolerant of drought and urban pollution.
Pyramidal; slender trunk; drooping branches; narrow crown
Sun to partial shade; moist to dry soil
Fragrant lily-of-the-valley like flowers in summer; greenish yellow seed pods that last into fall
10-15 ft.
Growth Rate:
The Sourwood has alternate, simple, finely-toothed, glossy green leaves (to 5-8” long) reminiscent of a peach leaf. They have a sour taste, hence the common name. They produce consistently excellent fall color, typically turning crimson red.
cpp, songbirds, deciduous, bees, fragrant, deer resistant, salt tolerant, flowering, butterflies, showy

NCCES plant id: 514

Oxydendrum arboreum Oxydendrum arboreum
Megan Hansen, CC BY-SA - 4.0
Oxydendrum arboreum Oxydendrum arboreum
Mrs. Gemstone, CC BY-SA - 4.0
Oxydendrum arboreum Oxydendrum arboreum
Wendy Cutler, CC BY - 4.0
Oxydendrum arboreum Oxydendrum arboreum
Steve Kaiser, CC BY-NC-ND - 4.0
Oxydendrum arboreum Oxydendrum arboreum
Kristine Paulus, CC BY - 4.0
Oxydendrum arboreum Oxydendrum arboreum
Wendy Cutler, CC BY - 4.0
Oxydendrum arboreum Oxydendrum arboreum
James Gaither, CC BY-ND - 4.0
Oxydendrum arboreum Oxydendrum arboreum blooms
Debbie Roos