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Oxydendrum arboreum (Sourwood)
Vick, Albert F. W.

Oxydendrum arboreum

Oxydendrum arboreum (L.) DC.

Sourwood, Sorrel Tree

Ericaceae (Heath Family)


USDA Symbol: oxar

USDA Native Status: L48 (N)

Tree with conical or rounded crown of spreading branches, clusters of flowers recalling Lily-of-the-valley, and glossy foliage that turns red in autumn. Open-grown sourwood is pyramidal and branched to the ground. If grown in shadier situations, the deciduous tree develops a taller, more columnar crown on a limbless trunk. Mature height usually ranges from 30-70 ft. The deeply furrowed bark is gray, tinged with red. Small, white, lily-of-the-valley-like flowers hang in rows from 6-8 in. spikelets, appearing after the leaves are fully grown. Pale yellow fruit capsules are almost as showy as the flowers. These darken and remain well after leaf drop in fall. Sourwood leaves turn a brilliant, deep-red in early fall.

Sourwood is an attractive ornamental throughout the year. Both the genus name, meaning "sour tree," and the common name refer to the acid taste of the foliage, although Sourwood honey is esteemed. Abundant in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


From the Image Gallery

33 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Fruit Type: Capsule
Size Notes: Up to about 100 feet tall, often shorter.
Leaf: Green

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: May , Jun , Jul , Aug


USA: AL , FL , GA , IL , IN , KY , LA , MD , MS , NC , NY , OH , PA , RI , SC , TN , VA , WV
Native Distribution: S. NJ & PA, s. OH, s. IN, s.e. IL, s. to w. FL & n.e. LA
Native Habitat: Well-drained woodlands of bluffs, ravines & hills; clearings

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
CaCO3 Tolerance: None
Soil Description: Gritty, woodsy, acidic, well-drained soils.
Conditions Comments: This is an all-season ornamental with few disease or insect problems. Flowering and fall color are maximized in the sun. Sensitive to pollution, soil compaction, and root disturbance, sourwood is not for urban areas.


Conspicuous Flowers: yes

Value to Beneficial Insects

Special Value to Honey Bees

This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.


Description: Germinate the minute seeds under mist or a plastic tent. Softwood cuttings treated with hormone should root well.
Seed Collection: Seeds are tiny and hairlike, ripening will after leaves have dropped.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

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:

Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Georgia Native Plant Society - Atlanta, GA
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE


Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.

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.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

Additional resources

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


Record Modified: 2023-04-03
Research By: TWC Staff

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