Trees With Flowers Or Fruits - The Sweet Leaf
( Originally Published 1927 )
Two genera of trees in this country are temperate zone representatives of a tropical family which furnishes benzoine, torax, and other valuable balsams of commerce. It is easy to see that these trees are strangers from warm countries, for many of their traits are singularly unfamiliar.
The Sweet Leaf
Symplocos tinctoria, L'Her.
The sweet leaf is our sole representative of a large genus of trees native to the forests of Australia and the tropics in Asia and South America. They yield important drugs and dyestuffs, particularly in British India. But the sweet leaf is a small tree, rarely over twenty feet in height, with ashy gray bark, warty and narrowly fissured. In earliest spring its twigs are clothed with yellow or white blossoms that come in a procession and cover the tree from March until May, preceding the leaves, and breathing a wonderful fragrance into the air. The leaves are small, leathery, dark green, lustrous above, deciduous in the regions of colder winters, persistent from one to two years in the warmer part of its range. The flowers are succeeded by brown berries that ripen in summer, or early autumn. The flesh is dry about the single seed.
Horses and cattle greedily browse upon the foliage, which has a distinctly sweet taste. The bark and leaves both yield a yellow dye, and the roots a tonic from their bitter, aromatic sap.
"Horse sugar" is another local name for this little tree, which is found sparingly from Delaware to Florida, west to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and in the Gulf states to Louisiana and northward into Arkansas and to eastern Texas. It is a shade-loving tree, usually found under the forest cover of taller species, skirting the borders of cypress swamps, and climbing to elevations of nearly three thousand feet on the slopes of the Blue Ridge.
A wonderful new species of symplocos has come into cultivation from japan and will enjoy a constantly in-creasing popularity. Its fragrant white blossoms, before the leaves, make the tree look like a hawthorn; but its unique distinction is that the racemed flowers give place to berries of a brilliant turquoise blue, which make this shrubby tree a most striking and beautiful object in the autumn when the leaves are turning yellow.