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12/14/16- The Sourwood Tree

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by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist

It is a weird hobby of mine to find unusual or uncommon trees in the woods. As soon as I spot them and the name doesn’t instantly come to mind, I make a mental note of as many physical characteristics as I can and then I go home and look it up in my southeast tree guide. A few weeks ago, I discovered a large tree with deeply furrowed bark and very light wood. As I began to research, I learned that this was a sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum). I will share with you what I learned about the physical characteristics, habitat, and uses of this rare find.

Physical Characteristics

            Oxydendrum arboreum is a tree that is often 50-60 feet tall with a DBH (diameter at breast height) of 10-12 inches. The tree itself is often leaning over a ravine or pond (where it is naturally occurring) and the bark is very dark and deeply furrowed. The leaves are often elliptical shaped with a serrated margin (it looks like teeth). The most definitive characteristic is the drooping flowers that hang from the leaves in clusters. In spring and summer, the leaves are yellowish green but they turn a deep red in fall.


The sourwood tree thrives in mixed hardwood forests and is often a sign of a healthy forest. This tree often appears as a single tree on the edges of roads or on sloping ground. It can survive in moist habitats as well as drier ones like roadsides and along pastures.


            Bees and other insects utilize the nectar from the flowers. The honey is also sold in markets across the world for human consumption. The tree is mostly viewed as an ornamental but could be used as a landscape tree due to its brilliant fall foliage. The sourwood tree can be grown in partial shade or full sun and is also free of pests! The juice from the leaves is also used to make sourwood jelly. It is rumored that the Cherokee and Catawba tribes used the flower shoots for arrow shafts. Some decorative coasters have also been created using sourwood trees.

When you come across a leaning tree, take a good look at the leaves and the bark; you may be standing next to a sourwood tree. If you are a honey connoisseur, you may have already consumed honey and/or jelly from this tree. It is interesting to see how different trees in the southeast can be from one another, yet they all have some kind of impact on our culture and our history.

By: Meaghan English

My name is Meaghan English, a wildlife specialist with TrueSouth. I graduated from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Ecology and Management and I have grown up with a passion for hunting. I knew from an early age that I was not only interested in the harvesting of wildlife, but I was also very interested in their biology and management. I decided that I not only wanted to be a wildlife enthusiast, I want to be an educated wildlife specialist. I will be using that grand education as a member of the TrueSouth team contributing wildlife blog articles!

My first hunting memory flashes back to when I was six or seven years old. Like any other Saturday during deer season, my dad had told my mom to get me ready because we were going hunting. Of course I was ecstatic! I was not ecstatic about the hair bow my mom made me wear with my camouflage (she wanted everyone to know I was in fact a fashionable girl). The entire way to Perdue Hill, Alabama, my dad told me that today would be the first day I would actually shoot my first deer and I knew I was ready. We pulled up to the camp, unloaded, and fed all the “camp cats”. Before we headed to our stand, I had spotted three kittens that I simply could not leave behind so I stuffed them in my jacket. After walking what seemed like five miles, we finally made it to the “Pressbox stand” (with my smuggled kittens) and sat down. Dad continuously pestered me to be quiet, but I wasn’t that worried about shooting a deer, I had kittens! Eventually, the sun began to sink behind the trees and a spike (without olfactory senses) entered the field. When it was safe to quietly move, dad handed me the gun and I handed him my three kittens. I slowly pulled the gun up and placed my cheek against the stock. Dad told me to breathe slowly and pull the trigger when I was ready. Sure enough, I pulled the trigger and the spike hit the ground. We high-fived, exchanged kittens again, and climbed down to see the kill. It certainly was not a wall hanger, but a huge chapter in my life was started that night. My dad and I still hunt together to this day and we practice quality deer management at all times.

My ultimate goal is to provide clients with a survey of flora and fauna that currently inhabit a specific tract of land and, if desired, how to properly manage that land for the species that are found there. All feedback is greatly appreciated and I look forward to working with you!

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