SOURWOOD Oxydendrum arboreum
The most cherished words ever uttered are, “I love you.” They express the ultimate devotion of two people. The Psalmist had that phrase in mind when he expressed praise to God in Psalm 119: 103, “How sweet are Thy words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
God had expressed His love to Abraham and all his descendants many times. He urged them to show their love by devoted obedience to the law. When the law failed, God gave the message again as “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
He made the ultimate statement of His love for you and me on Calvary. “For God so loved the world, He gave His only son…” Those are the words of love that are “sweeter than honey.”
When I, a city boy, attended junior college, it was in Appalachia on the border of Virginia and West Virginia. My roommate, a mountain boy, introduced me to “the best honey in the world,” so he said. I grant you, it was delicious, produced by honey bees from the blooms of a small tree.
Sourwood grows into a small tree that occasionally reaches 60 feet. One such specimen graced the south side of Sigman Road, just east of the new expansion of Rockdale hospital. It was cut down when the road was widened in 1998.
Its twisted form is in the background of the sketch. Its massive and radiant display of red leaves are sorely missed each fall because many of us passed it daily.
Ten years later, I was introduced to a local wonder that erased my sense of loss. State horticulturalists have officially designated a huge sourwood tree on Pleasant Hill Road in northern Rockdale as the largest sourwood in the state.
Most of our remaining sourwoods are the height of shrubs along our highway embankments. I watch for them every year, especially along Sigman Road. Then when fall arrives I watch for the brilliant crimson display as the long narrow leaves prepare to drop, as illustrated.
I have placed this sketch here because the blooms are whitish-yellow, but they are of little consequence, compared to the crimson display in the fall.
The 1/4-inch blooms are bell-shaped with five lobes. Each bloom has 10 yellow stamens and a single pistil. Thirty to 50 blooms are present on each raceme, the long drooping branchlet.
Sourwood is in the heath family of flowering plants that includes rhododendron, azalea, laurel, blueberry and cranberry. The common name, sourwood, was given to this plant because of the sour taste one gets from chewing on a twig or branch.
One should be careful because the leaves and bark contain a toxin that drastically reduces blood pressure, but no caution is needed when eating the honey. Truly this is another illustration of God’s grace and mercy as He has doubly blessed us with beauty and food.
Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. This column is included in a two-volume set of books of wildflower columns he has published. To purchase the books, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center Street in Olde Town Conyers. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.