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Search for native plants by scientific name, common name or family. If you are not sure what you are looking for, try the Combination Search or our Recommended Species lists.

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Symplocos tinctoria (Horse sugar)
Cressler, Alan

Symplocos tinctoria

Symplocos tinctoria (L.) L'Hér.

Horse Sugar, Common Sweetleaf, Sweetleaf, Yellowwood, Wild Laurel

Symplocaceae (Sweetleaf Family)

Synonym(s): Symplocos tinctoria var. ashei, Symplocos tinctoria var. pygmaea


USDA Native Status: L48 (N)

A deciduous or weakly evergreen shrub or small tree to 18 ft., sometimes taller, that usually flowers before the leaves appear. The compact clusters of small, fragrant, cream-colored flowers are borne in profusion along the branches of the previous seasonís growth. Numerous stamens make the blooms particularly showy. Shrub or small tree with short trunk, open crown of spreading branches, and foliage with sweetish taste.

The common names "Sweetleaf" and "Horsesugar" refer to the tasty foliage, which livestock eat greedily. The name "Yellowwood" and the Latin species name allude to a yellow dye once obtained from the bark and leaves. The bark, like others with bitter aromatic properties, was used by early settlers as a tonic.


From the Image Gallery

8 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous , Evergreen
Fruit Type: Drupe
Size Notes: Up to about 45 feet tall, often much shorter.
Fruit: Orange

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Yellow
Bloom Time: Feb , Mar , Apr , May


USA: AL , AR , DE , FL , GA , LA , MD , MS , NC , NY , OK , SC , TN , TX , VA
Native Distribution: S. DE to FL, w. to e. TX; also s.e. OK, AR & TN
Native Habitat: Sandy thickets; alluvial woods; stream banks

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Wet
Soil Description: Wet or moist, sandy or alluvial soils. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Acid-based.


Use Ornamental: Aromatic, Showy, Blooms ornamental
Use Wildlife: Foliage relished by browsers. Nectar-insects, Browse, Seeds-granivorous birds.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Attracts: Butterflies
Larval Host: King's hairstreak butterfly.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Edible Plants for North Georgia
January 10, 2010
We are planning a forest food garden in the hollers of the N GA Mountains. Which edible fruit, nut, berry, herb and creepers would be best for this reddish, clay-like soil? The food garden is in...
view the full question and answer

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Crosby Arboretum - Picayune, MS


Bibref 298 - Field Guide to Texas Trees (1999) Simpson, B.J.
Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 3 - Flora of North America (2014) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.

Additional resources

USDA: Find Symplocos tinctoria in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Symplocos tinctoria in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Symplocos tinctoria


Record Modified: 2022-09-26
Research By: TWC Staff

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