Lily of the Valley Tree--Sourwood
Leaves are similar to peach trees.
Sourwood trees are gems that only those who live in regions of clean air get to enjoy--urban dwellers need not attempt to plant a sourwood, as they don't respond well to pollution. They do not transplant easily, either. They don't like compacted soil, and they prefer moist, acidic soil. A rough winter will kill off smaller twigs. It doesn't grow very quickly, either. So why bother with this troublesome tree?
, all alone in its genus, is a terrific specimen tree for smaller homes and properties that are large enough to have woodland edges. It has strong resistance to insects and disease. It blooms later in the year than most specimen trees--h
ere in Transylvania county, sourwood trees at the lower elevations are blooming right now--and it has outstanding fall color, showing off brilliant red leaves. After the leaves drop, you will be pleased to see red twigs carrying on the theme. (Terrific photos of the twigs at the Duke Univ. link below.) While in the wild sourwoods can reach up to 75 feet tall, those in cultivation typically top out at about 30 feet and about half that in width--a good size for smaller homes. But unlike many other specimen trees, this one is strong--and a favorite of honey bees!
Bell-shaped flowers are bee magnets.
Sourwood gets its "Lily of the Valley tree" common name from its flowers, which hang bell-like from six- to eight-inch spikelets at the termination of the branches. Trees planted in full sun will bloom better and have the strongest fall color, but these trees are quite fond of partially-shaded locations if you have a spot available.
As a habitat plant, sourwood attracts bees, butterflies and birds after seed has set. The twigs are likely to be browsed by deer in winter.
I recommend mulching newly planted specimens to help it establish itself in your yard, as the mulch will help to keep the soil more moist and encourage some insect activity to keep the soil structure more open. Sourwood is hardy in zones 6 through 9, though some sources include zone 5. I had to order ours through our local nursery--it was the first tree I'd ever planted that arrived in a wooden box instead of a plastic pot. I assume this was to help remediate the transplanting problem--the rootball had some of the healthiest development at the outer edges I had ever seen in nursery stock. I was interested in a single-trunk tree--but you may also be able to locate a multi-stemmed sapling that could be kept more shrub-like. If you choose to plant a sourwood, expect it to take the full three years to get established and start putting on its sumptuous, leafy skirt!
Color coming on last fall.
Speaking of leaves, those on
are between three and eight inches long, slightly serrated and alternate. The bark of mature trees is very thick and blocky. Unlike certain other over-planted specimen trees *cough* Bradford Pear! *cough,* sourwood grows slowly enough to have hard, dense, finely-grained wood. This one is unlikely to just toss its branches around the yard when you blow your nose. And unlike every other tree I can think of, sourwoods are even distinctive in their trunks--which are not round, but more oval/elliptical. See? You have to have one. You can purchase a sourwood through the
, or you can pester your favorite local nursery to hand select one for you.