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Trees With Flowers Or Fruits - The Sorrel Tree

( Originally Published 1927 )



The sorrel tree, or sour-wood (Oxydendrum arboreum, DC.) belongs among the heaths. Its vivid scarlet autumn foliage is its chief claim to the admiration of gardeners. In spring the little tree is beautiful in its bronze-green foliage, and in late July and August it bears long branching racemes of tiny bell-shaped white flowers. This multitude of little bells suggests the tree's relationship to the blossoming heather we see in florists' shops.

The leaves give the tree its two common names : they have a sour taste, resembling that of the herbaceous sorrels. The twigs, even in the dead of winter, yield this refreshing acid sap, that flows through the veins of the membranous leaves in summer. Many a hunter, temporarily lost in Southern woods, quenches his thirst by nibbling young shoots of the sour-wood.

After the flower comes a downy capsule, five-celled, with numerous pointed seeds. The leaves are not unlike those of a plum tree except that they attain a length of five to seven inches. In the woods from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, southward to Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas this tree ranges, and we often see it in cultivation as far north as Boston. It grows to its largest size on the western slopes of the Big Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, attaining here a height of sixty feet. In cultivation it is one of the little, slender-stemmed, dainty trees, beautiful at any season. It is the sole representative of its genus in the world, so far as botanists know.



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