Symplocos tinctoria (Sweetleaf, Horsesugar) is a large semi-evergreen shrub that is rare in the Piedmont of North Carolina, but common on the Coastal Plain. It occurs occasionally in the Falls Lake area and at Rockcliff Farm. Small numbers can be seen on both sides of the Zeagle’s Rock Trail from its beginning at the dirt road near Rockcliff Farm, to Zeagle’s Rock. Like most of the Sweetleaf seen at Falls Lake, the Rockcliff Farm population grows in heavy shade and is often browsed by deer. Blooms are sparse and many of the shrubs do not bloom at all. The leaves of this shrub, as the name Sweetleaf implies, are slightly sweet-tasting, which leads to preferential browsing by the local White-tailed Deer. The browsing is fortunately often very erratic. Last fall, one large shrub along the trail was chewed to tatters with only small pieces of leaves remaining, while another similar sized shrub, just 10 feet away, was untouched and had all its foliage.
The following photos were taken along Zeagle’s Rock Trail in May. A flash was used due to heavy shade from the surrounding trees. The photos illustrate new spring foliage, still green and shiny. The third photo illustrates the drupe (a fruit containing a single seed) that is formed after a successful bloom. Sweetleaf spreads mostly by seeds.
The following photo shows 2 flowers in bloom, with unopened buds along the stem and new leaves coming out of the end of the stem. One old leaf can still be seen hanging on from the previous year. Note the prominent stamens. The flower shots were taken in Bertie County in April.
The next photo shows individual flowers with the stamens so prominent that they tend to obscure the petals.
At the center of this photo, flowers can be seen blooming with new foliage extending from the stem and a good number of old leaves still attached.
During the winter, distinctive terminal buds can be seen. These final photos were taken in February, and many older leaves were still attached to this plant.
A close shot of a terminal bud shows the brown color and profuse hairs seen at this time.
Sweetleaf is easiest to find in April and May, when the foliage is new and the deer have not yet destroyed the leaves. And the Zeagle’s Rock Trail below Rockcliff Farm is one of the best spots to find it.
No mail-order source for seedlings of Sweetleaf appears to exist. I would be interested in buying several (5, a dozen, more). I would be grateful if someone could point me toward a current source.
Dear Steven, I would be interested too in buying Symplocos tinctoria (Sweetleaf), please could you tell me if you find a source to buy this plant ?
Your initial observation appears to be correct. So far, no one has come forward or been able to find a mail-order source. Collecting seeds and attempting germination on your own is a possibility.
I think I just found quite a few in my woods. Anyone know how I can propigate it?
hello i live in italy, i would like to grow symplocos for dyeing. Can you tell me where I could buy Symplocos tinctoria (Sweetleaf) plants? many thanks
Symplocos tinctoria propagation
Seed – best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Stored seed requires stratification and is best sown in a cold frame in late winter, it can take 12 months to germinate. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the cold frame for their first winter. Plant out in late spring or early summer. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 7 – 10cm with a heel, July/August in individual pots in a cold frame[78, 200]. Roots are formed in about 4 weeks. Good percentage.
I would like to grow this plant in my garden in Spain, for dying…if you are succeed with the germinate, would you please send me some seeds? It will be wonderful…
Excuse me, I wanted to write “dyeing”, not dying!
Thank you for all the information about germinating and propagating Symplocos tinctoria.