Symplocos tinctoria (L.) L’Hér.
  • ALTERNATE COMMON NAME: horse-sugar
  • LEAVES: tardily deciduous, simple, alternate, elliptic, 5-6” long by 1-2” wide, tips acute to acuminate, margins entire; midrib yellow later in season; leaves taste like green apple when chewed
  • FLOWER: perfect (bisexual), yellow, 5 yellow petals, 5 sepals, many stamens, ovary partly inferior, flowers closely set in sessile ball-like clusters on twigs of the previous season, appearing before new growth commences in spring
  • FRUIT: oblong drupe, green when immature, maturing brown-purple, to 0.5” long
  • TWIGS: younger twigs sparsely pubescent, grayish, older twigs brown and covered with a waxy bloom, later sloughing; pith chambered
  • BARK: bark grayish brown, smooth to lightly furrowed, sometimes with corky outgrowths
  • FORM: shrub to small tree, to ca. 30’ tall and 10” dbh
  • HABITAT: mesic forests including mixed hardwood-loblolly pine, small stream, hardwood slope, and southern mesophytic hardwood forests.
  • WETLAND DESIGNATION: Facultative (FAC): Occurs in wetlands or non-wetlands of the Atlantic and Gulf Coast Plain Region
  • RANGE: southeastern US [USGS Range Map]
  • USES: a dye can be extracted from leaves and bark (hence the specific epithet “tinctoria”)
  • WILDLIFE: moderate deer browse utilized most heavily in late fall and winter; fruits eaten by birds; important pollinator plant; host for larval King’s hairstreak butterfly
  • Best Recognition Features:
    1. semi-evergreen (leaves often persist through winter) shrub to small tree
    2. thick tardily deciduous elliptic leaves with entire margins, yellow midrib; chewed leaf tastes like green apple
    3. fruit an oblong drupe to 0.5” long, maturing brown-purple, the ovary wholly inferior in fruit with calyx teeth persisting atop fruit