Don’t let the Sourwood’s name fool you; this tough shade tree produces sweetly fragrant blossoms and erupts in fiery fall colors, bursting with chromatism every summer and autumn. Hailed as a tree for all seasons, the Sourwood is easy to care for; it thrives in a variety of conditions and is resilient against major pests. It is an optimal choice as a specimen tree or as a hedge, steadily growing to become a handsome medium-sized tree, and enlivening any landscape especially in the autumn with its patchwork of lively crimson, purple, and golden-bronze leaves.
Scientifically classified as “Oxydendrum Arboreum”, the Sourwood belongs to the Ericaceae family. It can be grown in hardiness zones 5-9 and is found throughout eastern North America, most frequently as a component of oak-heath woods. As a small shrub or tall tree, this species typically grows to heights of 25-30 ft. with a 20 ft. spread, though some trees have grown considerably taller; the largest such tree has been recorded in North Carolina, rearing up to 118 ft. Under optimal conditions, the Sourwood can survive for up to two centuries.
The Sourwood’s pyramidal structure, rounded crown, and drooping branches render it a majestic shade tree that can provide abundant shade in the summer and show-stopping autumnal foliage later in the year. It prefers well-drained, slightly acidic soils and exposure to plenty of sunlight. Though it can be easily transplanted when young and exhibits no serious pest problems, this species does not really tolerate root disturbance and thus may suffer in urban regions. It serves as an excellent specimen tree and also as a hedge, boasting a blocky, thick-layered, reddish-gray bark and dense, glossy, verdant foliage. In June and July, the Sourwood produces dazzling blossoms, fragrant and cream-white, that resemble lilies-of-the-valley. Laden with nectar, these blossoms attract the bees that later produce much-coveted gourmet honey. The Sourwood’s flowers contrast beautifully with the tree’s gleaming dark verdure; when these blossoms fade in the autumn, the Sourwood maintains its appeal and continues to delight with its spectacularly pigmented foliage.
Photos Copyright © Horticopia, Inc. 2017
This Tree's Zone: 5 to 9
Your Growing Zone:
|Fall Foliage||Crimson red|
|Bloom Time||June to July|
|Shape||Narrow oblong crown|
|Sun||Full sun to part shade|
|Size||20 to 50 feet|
|Spread||10 to 25 feet|