Oxydendrum arboreum

Sourwood in bloom

It’s ironic that a tree with a sour name produces a famous sweet treat. Sourwood is a small tree that in early summer is covered in white blooms that resemble lily of the valley, giving it the nickname of Lily-of-the-Valley tree. The flowers are sought out by honeybees, which produce a prized honey known for its light color, aroma, and unique flavor. The tree gets its common name from the sour taste of its leaves. Despite this, the Cherokee used the leaves to create a tonic to treat upset stomach, asthma, and lung disease. They also chewed the bark for relief from mouth ulcers, and used the wood for pipe stems and arrow shafts. For pioneers and settlers in Western North Carolina, honey and molasses were preferred as sweeteners over table sugar, and many families kept bee gums (bee hives created in hollow black gum trees) to produce honey as a cash crop.

Sponsor: Friends of Silvermont, in honor of Sarah Jane McLean Moser

Photo credits: