This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
This is the name of the specimens sent by R. J. Black, Bremen, Ohio. It is known as the "Sorrel tree, " and in many respects is one of the most beautiful of the smaller trees of Northern Ohio. It is surprising it is not in more general cultivation.
(See frontispiece). We have chosen this to illustrate as a frontispiece for our annual volume, for four reasons. First, because it is one of the most beautiful of the many beautiful American shrubs when in flower. Secondly, because, though a native plant, it is seldom seen anywhere under culture, and yet it deserves to be an universal favorite as a garden plant. Thirdly, it is so common to paint plants in flower, and yet the seed vessels are often of much interest; and fourthly, the distinctly American characteristic of an American shrub or tree - fine Autumn colors - is seldom given in plates of American plants.
In regard to our first point, we can scarcely do justice to its graceful beauty when in its prime of flowering, and in its native places. The writer's first acquaintance with it in a wild condition was in Kentucky, now many years ago, and the image of the beautiful scene is as fresh now as the reality was when first enjoyed. The writer, with a fellow traveller (Mr. William M. Canby, of Wilmington, Del.) had journeyed some miles through the woods, before breakfast, till we came on a piece of open ground, of some acres in extent, that was comparatively treeless. It was grown up with the "Sedge Grass" of the Southern farmer, (which it is not, but an Andropogon) and Blackberries, Huckleberries and similar material made up the undergrowth'. The Andromeda arborea, scattered about so that each had plenty of room to grow, constituted all the larger arborescent growth, and these were of all sizes from say three and four feet to perhaps twenty feet. They branched from the ground, and generally had one straight leading stem, while the main branches were mostly horizontal, the lowest of course the largest, tapering to the top, and making perfect cones in outline.
The flowers were then expanded, of a beautiful clear waxy white, and on long racemes which bent down, but yet curved upwards again at the apex, much as the specimen in fruit now figured does. The brow of the hill was covered with them, and far down the sides they extended till lost in the shadows formed by the rising sun. We were anxious to get to the next village for breakfast, but even hunger, tyrannical as he is, could scarcely expect us to beg pardon for stopping awhile to admire that beautiful sight. There are, however, some who know and admire it as we do, but when they ask for it at nurseries, they fail of the promised reward and do not find it. Regarding our third point, we fancy our readers, as they go through all the parts of the seed-vessels and branches, analyzing the lines and proportions with their relations under recognized laws of beauty, will see at least as much to admire as in many flowers; and this especially in relation to our fourth point - its autumn colors. Our specimen, kindly sent us by Mr. R. J. Black, of Bremen, Ohio, is just on the turn. There is yet some green left, and the winey-rose which it finally acquires has not yet been achieved.
But we go back to our Kentucky wild land, and can imagine how beautiful these wild trees must now be, covered by these slender grey drooping branchlets of seed-vessels, with their background of Orange brown leaves. We may well ask with Thomson, "Who can paint like nature ? " and fancy the answer would be, perhaps, " only your artist, and then only when, as now, he truly copies her".
Our publisher's idea in getting up this chromo is, that it is a gift to those of his readers who do, or may get him some new subscribers. The editor's idea is to take advantage of this liberality to make a good point for the reader, and he trusts the opportunity he gives them to be well acquainted with this beautiful little tree will be duly appreciated. For it often is a little tree. Though it blooms when quite small - and this we take to be the rule for deciding whether a woody plant should be classed as a tree or shrub - it will often reach the height of forty feet.
We have adopted the name Andromeda arborea, the name used by Linmeus, because it is so known in all popular horticultural works. But DeCandolle saw reasons to make a genus, and separated it under the name of Oxydendrum, and as Oxydendrum it appears in Dr. Gray's Manual, and other standard modern works. The leaves have a slight Cranberry taste, and the Cranberry is Oxycoccus, or a berry with a sharp taste, and so we have its near relative, Oxydendrum, or the sharp tree, in reference to these acid leaves. In English it is " Sorrel Tree, " and all from the same idea.
We really think that the Southern nurseryman, in accessible locations, would do a good service to horticulture by taking under culture a fair stock of healty wild plants, and possibly serve his purse at the same time.