Alternate name: Blackgum, Sourgum
Family: Cornaceae, Dogwood view all from this family
Description Nyssa sylvatica, commonly known as black tupelo, tupelo, or black gum, is a medium-sized deciduous tree native to eastern North America from New England and southern Ontario south to central Florida and eastern Texas, as well as Mexico.
Nyssa sylvatica's genus name (Nyssa) refers to a Greek water nymph; the species epithet sylvatica refers to its woodland habitat.
Nyssa sylvatica grows to 20–25 metres (66–82 ft) tall, rarely to 35 metres (115 ft), with a trunk diameter of 50–100 centimetres (20–39 in), rarely up to 170 centimetres (67 in). These trees typically have a straight trunk with the branches extending outward at right angles. The bark is dark gray and flaky when young, but it becomes furrowed with age, resembling alligator hide on very old stems. The twigs of this tree are reddish-brown, usually hidden by a greyish skin. The pith is chambered with greenish partitions.
The leaves of this species are variable in size and shape. They can be oval, elliptical, or obovate, and 5–12 cm (2–5 in) long. They have lustrous upper surfaces, with entire, often wavy margins. The foliage turns purple in autumn, eventually becoming an intense bright scarlet.
The flowers are very small, in greenish-white in clusters at the top of a long stalk. The fruit is a black-blue, ovoid stone fruit, about 10 mm long with a thin, oily, bitter-to-sour tasting flesh. There are from one to three such fruit together on a long slender stalk.
Additional characteristics include:
Bark: Light reddish brown, deeply furrowed and scaly. Branchlets at first pale green to orange, sometimes smooth, often downy, later dark brown.
Wood: Pale yellow, sapwood white; heavy, strong, very tough, hard to split, not durable in contact with the soil. Used for turnery. Sp. gr., 0.6353; weight of cu. ft., 39.59.
Winter buds: Dark red, obtuse, one-fourth of an inch long. Inner scales enlarge with the growing shoot, becoming red before they fall.
Leaves: Alternate, often crowded at the end of the lateral branches, simple, linear, oblong to oval, two to five inches (127 mm) long, one-half to three inches (76 mm) broad, wedge-shaped or rounded at base, entire, with margin slightly thickened, acute or acuminate. They come out of the bud conduplicate, coated beneath with rusty tomentum, when full grown are thick, dark green, very shining above, pale and often hairy beneath. Feather-veined, midrib and primary veins prominent beneath. In autumn they turn bright scarlet, or yellow and scarlet. Petioles one-quarter to one-half an inch long, slender or stout, terete or margined, often red.
Flowers: May, June, when leaves are half grown. Polygamodiúcious, yellowish green, borne on slender downy peduncles. Staminate in many-flowered heads; pistillate in two to several flowered clusters.
Calyx: Cup-shaped, five-toothed.
Corolla: Petals five, imbricate in bud, yellow green, ovate, thick, slightly spreading, inserted on the margin of the conspicuous disk.
Stamens: Five to twelve. In staminate flowers exserted, in pistillate short, often wanting.
Pistil: Ovary inferior, one to two-celled; style stout, exserted, reflexed above the middle. Entirely wanting in sterile flower. Ovules, one in each cell.
Fruit: Fleshy drupe, one to three from each flower cluster. Ovoid, two-thirds of an inch long, dark blue, acid. Stone more or less ridged. October.
Habitat Canyons & valleys, Mountains.
Range Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, New England, Florida, Texas, Great Lakes, Plains.
Comments This is a wide-ranging tree, found in a variety of habitats, so plants of local ecotype are necessary to ensure success. It is slow-growing. This species tolerates drier sites than N. aquatica and also tolerates poor drainage. Black gum transplants poorly due to a fleshy, non-fibrous root system. Move up to 4 in. caliper trees in the spring before onset of growth. Black gum does not age gracefully and is occasionally troubled by insect and disease problems.
Exposure Preference Partial shade to sun.
Native Distribution S. Maine to Michigan, Illinois & s.e. Missouri, s. to Florida Panhandle & e. Texas
Site Preference Low, wet woods; drier, sandy sites
Soil Preference Various acid soils.
Wildlife Value Fruit is eaten by many birds. Flowers are a source of nectar.