Tennessee Smart Yards Native Plants

A comprehensive database of Tennessee native plants

Sourwood, Sorrel Tree, Lily-of-the-Valley Tree

Sourwood, Sorrel Tree, Lily-of-the-Valley Tree

Oxydendrum arboreum

Full to part sun; medium to moderately dry moisture level; best in organically rich soil but also grows in coarse granular sands and gravels to moderately fine clay loams; strongly acid to moderately acid pH.

20-50 feet height by 10-25 feet spread; creamy white flowers in spikelets 6-8 inches long in mid-summer; tan-brown, dried seed capsules, 1/3 to ½ inch long in September to November.

Growth Rate: Slow

Maintenance: Low. Infrequent disease and insect problems.

Propagation: Easy from seed. No pre-treatment required. Germinate the very tiny seeds in tray of peat, cover with a plastic tent to maintain humidity and place under continuous light. Very slow growth once germinated. Very difficult from cuttings.

Native Region: Statewide

Beautiful, all season, ornamental tree and excellent specimen plant for the lawn or woodland edge. Urn-shaped, ¼ inch long, fragrant flowers in long, drooping panicles that literally smother the foliage. Scarlet red leaves in fall. Get best flowering and best fall color in full sun. Intolerant of drought and urban pollution. Most commonly found on rocky, wooded slopes in the Appalachian Mountains, often growing with azaleas and rhododendrons. Sourwood honey is highly prized.

Important mid-season nectar source for bees, wasps and beetles. Special value to honey bees.

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2 responses to “Sourwood, Sorrel Tree, Lily-of-the-Valley Tree

  1. joystewart August 2, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    I originally planted three of these trees. I purposefully put them in different sunny locations with a variety of moisture levels, such as an upland site and a lower, cooler site. Although I have clay, we dug out and enriched a large area at all the planting sites before planting. In spite of all this, all three trees did very poorly and either died or I had to dig them up and throw them out because they became so stunted over time. Very disappointing. I have talked to other people who had similar problems. I would say this tree really needs its ideal site to do well. If it does well, it is a drop-dead gorgeous tree to have.

    • Harry Porter January 13, 2020 at 1:15 am

      Sourwood trees seem to grow pretty good in clay/chert type soils. The best nectar production occurs at 1000 ft. elevation above sea level. Most sourwood honey is produced in the Appalachian Mountains.

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