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Home > Resources > North Carolina Trees > Sourwood


(Oxydendrum arboreum (L.) DC)

  Sourwood is found scattered throughout the state on both rich and poor soils but is least abundant in the low alluvial parts of the state. It is a small tree, 8 to 12 inches in diameter and 30 to 40 feet tall, but rarely taller.

The bark is thin, light gray and divided into narrow shallow ridges. On the strong, straight, first-year shoots, sourwood bark often is bright red. The twigs lack terminal buds.

Sourwood leaves are 3 to 6 inches long, simple, alternate, very acidic to the taste (oxalic acid). They are often rough with solitary, stiff hairs. The leaves are a shiny green on the upper surface and usually turn a deep crimson in the fall.

The flowers, which appear in early summer, are small, white or cream-colored and are borne in particles of 5 to 10 inches long on the ends of the twigs. (See the foreward for an illustration of particles.) Bees use the flower's nectar to make rich-colored honey which is widely enjoyed throughout the state.

Sourwood fruit is a conical, dry capsule, 1/3 to 1/2 inch long that contains many small seeds. These capsules hang in drooping clusters sometimes a foot long, often persisting late into the fall.

The wood is heavy, hard, very close-grained and compact. It is brown, sometimes tinged with red. Sourwood is seldom considered a commercial wood. It is sometimes used for turnery, handles, pulp and other items.
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