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SourwoodOxydendrum arboreum

  • Sourwood - Oxydendrum arboreum
  • Sourwood - Oxydendrum arboreum
  • Sourwood - Oxydendrum arboreum

A medium-sized tree, the sourwood shines in the summer and fall. Its midsummer flowers appear like lilies-of-the-valley, are highly fragrant and contrast nicely against the green foliage. Then in the fall, leaves turn intensely beautiful shades of brilliant crimson, purplish-red and sometimes yellow. This tree shines in landscaping as a specimen in a lawn, a garden feature, an ornamental addition to larger trees or a clump in a large, open space.

And for honey lovers, the sourwood offers an additional bonus. Honey produced from the flowers of this tree is considered by many to be unmatched by clover, orange blossom, fireweed or any other honey.

Hardiness Zones

The sourwood can be expected to grow in Hardiness Zones 5–9. View Map

Tree Type

This tree is considered both a shade tree and an ornamental tree. It features a spreading canopy capable of blocking sunlight and adds visual interest and beauty to landscaping.

Mature Size

The sourwood grows to a height of 25–30' and a spread of around 20' at maturity.

Growth Speed Medium Growth Rate

This tree grows at a medium rate, with height increases of 13–24" per year.

Sun Preference

Full sun is the ideal condition for this tree, meaning it should get at least 6 hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day.

Soil Preference

The sourwood grows in acidic, loamy, moist, sandy, well-drained and clay soils. It prefers normal moisture but has some drought tolerance.


This tree:
  • Blooms from June to early July, with fragrant white flowers on drooping stalks that look very similar to lilies-of-the-valley.
  • Features simple, elliptic or oblong leaves that are dark green in color and range from 4–8" long.
  • Provides great fall color, with leaves turning crimson, purplish-red and sometimes yellow in the fall.
  • Can live 100–200 years if planted in the right site¬.
  • Yields an oval-shaped fruit that is under ½" in diameter.
  • Grows in an oval shape.
  • Is used by bees to produce highly prized honey.

Wildlife Value

Deer browse sourwood twigs and leaves. Gourmet honey is produced by the many bees that are attracted to the nectar-laden flowers.


A native tree of North America, the sourwood is one of the few endemic trees that is not found in other continents unless planted and has no related species. The name Sourwood is derived from the acrid taste of its leaves, but tea made from these leaves is widely used by mountain climbers as a thirst-quencher. Pioneers used the sap as one ingredient in a concoction used for treating fevers; the bark for chewing to soothe mouth pains; and leaf tea for treating diarrhea, indigestion and dysentery. But the best known by-product of the Sourwood tree is the hard-to-find and extremely delicious honey that bees produce from the fragrant blossoms.

It goes by many other common or local names including sorrel tree, sorrel gum, sour gum, arrow wood, elk tree, lily-of-the-valley tree and titi tree.