March 5, 2010

Sourwood

Oxydendrum arboreum
This unusual tree is called a Sourwood because it grows in very acid (sour) soil. The name sounds like heartburn, but this tree is one of the most beautiful in my yard.  The Fall color is vibrant, and the flowers are delicate white sprays that look like lilies of the valley and hold on all through autumn.  Enlarge this picture and you will see the flowers dangling like earrings all over this wonderful specimen: 
This tree is not mine, it's an old one growing by the road on my way to the gym. 
It's my motivation to get up and go exercise, just to see this on the way.

My own Sourwood tree is small, growing at the edge of the patio where I can sit right by it and admire the bee buzzy frenzy that jiggles this tree when it's in bloom, starting in late June.  It's a pretty shape; small, narrow and delicately elegant.  The way the flowers fling their little pinkies out, it makes me think it came here for a tea party and just stayed.

It leans, bending toward the patio to its left.   I have staked it in the past to keep it more upright, but staking trees is not really good for developing trunk strength, and it just wants to lean over to see what's doing on the patio.  Other mature Sourwood trees I have seen have curvy crooked trunks and are growing at angles, it's their natural woodland form.  So I may have to let this one go its own way, although I'm hoping it doesn't want to tilt over too far.

In the Fall, it is brilliant red, still hanging on to its flowers.  One year it was more watermelon red, almost a little orange, and its leaves in the summer had been more light green.  I sprinkled elemental sulphur around the base to acidify the soil, and the leaves the following year were deeper green and much redder the next autumn.
My New England soil is naturally acid, but this tree, like the blueberries it is related to, wants very acid conditions.  Elemental sulphur works very slowly, lowering ph in soil over many months.  You can't splash this tree with some acid fertilizer and get color changes like you would with a pink hydrangea to turn its blooms blue.  But I will repeat the addition of the sulphur periodically to keep this area just a little lower ph than it is naturally, and the following season's growth will look a little happier, a little deeper hued.

It's iffy getting a new Sourwood started here.  It's very shallow rooted, with fibrous fine strands of roots, and initially it is only hardy to zone 6.  After it establishes, it's fully hardy in zone 5.  I lost my first transplant, the one pictured here is my second attempt, planted early in 2007.

Sourwood is a slow grower, and it will never be a very wide or big tree, although it will get tall and slender.  I can see this tree from my kitchen window, it's the first thing I spot when I open the bedroom shades.  I sit under it (sort of) as I rest on the patio, where some day it will be big enough to block the west sun that bakes the patio in summer.  It's perfect for the spot I planted it in, I just hope it thinks so too.

Oxydendrum arboreum
in University of Connecticut's plant files
in MoBot's database
Another shot of the tree on the way to the gym.  
Don't you just want to grab your sneakers and come look?

13 comments:

  1. Beautiful fall color and interesting info about the sulphur. Hope your second tree continues to thrive!

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  2. What a cool tree! I think I have have seen one at the garden center, but didn't check the name on it :) I love trees that have interest all year round...

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  3. What a gorgeous tree, too bad my soil is alkaline!

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  4. I enjoyed looking at your blog and that tree is wonderful. That will be a great view from your kitchen window. I love the title of your blog! It really caught my eye. :)

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  5. Cyndy, Kyna, Deborah, and Amy, thank you all for stopping here and admiring my favorite tree. It really does make me happy all year.

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  6. What a lovely tree! The common name simply doesn't do it justice.

    ps. I love your description of the pinky fingers :-)

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  7. OK, Laurrie, I want one. And you describe it so beautifully.

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  8. Garden Ms. S: it really is the prettiest tree with its ladylike pinkies : )

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  9. Jane: welcome to the blog. The picture of the big tree is on Duncaster, I'll show it to you!

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  10. One day I was upstairs in my son's room and looked out the window. I noticed a fabulous tree up high on the hill beside our drive. Upon investigation it turned out to be a sourwood. I am sad that it really can't be seen well from ground level. It is about as large as the one in your first photo. This makes me want to plant a small one somewhere folks can see it!

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  11. Deborah: I hope you do plant a sourwood where you can really see and enjoy it. It would be a nice complement to your Japanese maples.

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  12. That is a magnificent specimen that's on your way to the gym. The young one in your yard looks great too. It's flowering and coloring beautifully.

    We have Sorrell Trees growing in one specific place on our farm and I'm very happy they are there. They are such distinctive and beautiful trees.

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  13. Sweet bay, how neat that you have these growing wild on your farm. I loved the tour of your property you gave, and I'm looking forward to seeing more... post some of your sorrel trees!

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