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Symplocos tinctoria (Linnaeus) L'Héritier. Subgenus: Symplocos. Section: Barberina. Sweetleaf, Horsesugar, Dyebush. Phen: Mar-May; Aug-Sep. Hab: Moist bottomland forests, pocosin edges, mesic forests, ridgetop pine and oak/pine forests, pine flatwoods, longleaf pine sandhills. Dist: DE south to n. FL and west to e. TX and se. OK. The range in our area is discontinuous and interesting, the species is rather abundant in the Coastal Plain throughout our area, and in the Mountains of NC and SC (absent from the VA mountains!), but present in the Piedmont only near its borders with the other provinces and in scattered sites in the central Piedmont. Plants in the part of the distribution in the Southern Appalachians have been described as var. ashei Harbison on the basis of hairier leaves, stems, and fruits; the correlation of morphology and biogeography is suggestive of varietal distinction reflecting past history of the species in our area (see Hardin 1966).

ID notes: The leaves have a subcoriaceous and rather evergreen appearance (even resembling Kalmia latifolia), but are only semi-evergreen or tardily deciduous. As the name implies, the leaves are somewhat sweet (especially near the midvein), but the sweetness seems variable from plant to plant, season to season, and taster to taster. Whether sweet or not, the ‘green apple’ taste is distinctive and is helpful (once learned) in distinguishing this rather nondescript shrub or small tree. Where protected from fire, S. tinctoria can reach considerable size, to at least 20 cm in diameter and 12 m tall, with longitudinally striped bark.

Origin/Endemic status: Endemic

Taxonomy Comments: Var. ashei, with mainly or strictly montane distribution, needs additional taxonomic consideration and may warrant recognition at variety rank; see Hardin (1966) and Harbison (1931).

Synonymy: = Ar, C, Fl5, FNA8, GW2, K1, K3, NY, RAB, S, Tat, Tn, Tx, Va, W, WH3, Hardin (1966); > Symplocos tinctoria (L.) L'Hér. var. ashei Harb. – Harbison (1931); > Symplocos tinctoria (L.) L'Hér. var. pygmaea Fernald – F, G; > Symplocos tinctoria (L.) L'Hér. var. tinctoria – F, G, Harbison (1931)

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Wetland Indicator Status:

  • Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain: FAC
  • Eastern Mountains and Piedmont: FAC
  • Great Plains: FAC
  • Midwest: FAC
  • Northcentral & Northeast: FAC

Heliophily ?: 5

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image of plant© Keith Bradley | Original Image ⭷
image of plant© Bruce A. Sorrie | Original Image ⭷
image of plant© Bruce A. Sorrie | Original Image ⭷
image of plant© Keith Bradley | Original Image ⭷
image of plant© Mark Peifer, characteristic fall blackish tinge. Middle Mountain, Randolph Co., NC | Original Image ⭷
image of plant© Scott Ward | Original Image ⭷
image of plant© Joey Shaw source | Original Image ⭷
image of plant© Gary P. Fleming | Original Image ⭷
image of plant© Alan Cressler: Symplocos tinctoria, Paulk's Prairie Wildlife Management Area, Glynn County, Georgia 1 by Alan Cressler source | Original Image ⭷
image of plant© Scott Ward | Original Image ⭷
image of plant© Keith Bradley | Original Image ⭷
image of plant© Erik Danielson source | Original Image ⭷
image of plant© Gary P. Fleming | Original Image ⭷
image of plant© Radford, Ahles and Bell | Original Image ⭷

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