by Don Hazel
My neighbor Bill has tried to convince me to raise bees. It is not just because he doesn’t want to raise them himself; he has raised bees. The reason that he wants me to get a hive is because of the tree in the picture that grows near my backyard.
This is a sourwood tree. They bloom for a few short weeks this time every year. They are sometimes called the lily-of-the-valley tree because of the flowers which look almost exactly like the lily-of-the-valley plant. Sourwoods are not large trees; usually only about one foot in diameter and typically only about 50 feet tall, and their wood is insignificant in the lumber industry. But to some people, sourwood trees are like gold…precious and few. And, we just happen to live near the geographic center of sourwood tree distribution in the United States. Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee is sourwood heaven.
So what is it about this tree that gets so many people excited? The answer is in the flowers. The leaves and bark may taste bitter (hence the name sourwood), but the flowers are sweet. The nectar from sourwood flowers produces what many people believe to be the best honey in the world. Sourwood honey has been called the Cadillac of honeys. One writer said, “Most honey is made by bees. But sourwood is made by bees and angels.” I am not a honey connoisseur, but I have heard the praises for this honey so much that I have to believe it is true.
Supposedly, in order to truly be called “sourwood honey” it must be tested and found to be nearly 100% sourwood with few other types of nectars. If you like honey you probably ought to try some sourwood honey. I am not sure if you can get it in the supermarkets but I know that it is available in the gift shops in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.
This brings us back to the bees. The only problem with me raising bees to take advantage of the sourwood trees in my yard is those little stingers that bees have. I am not inexperienced with bee stings. My dad had a hive or two of bees for a number of years when I was a youngster and I have more than a few memories of being on the wrong end of a bee. Once, a wrong turn caused me to run my little homemade go-cart directly into the front of a hive with unfortunate results. Fortunately, I am not allergic to bee stings, but the darn things do hurt. They say that beekeepers get used to the stings, but for me, I will just enjoy the sourwood trees out my window and get my sourwood honey in a jar at the store. I guess my neighbor Bill will have to do the same.