Black Tupelo, Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)

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50’ to 75’ tall x 20’ to 30’ wide, cold hardy to –30°F USDA Zone 4. Slow growing, long lived, 650+ years. Native to eastern North America from southern Ontario south to Florida, east to Texas and northern Mexico. Found in a wide range of climates from wet woodlands to dry rocky mountain slopes and ravines in the Appalachians. Best on well-drained, light-textured soils but will tolerate clay and wet soil, even some periodic flooding. Semi-drought tolerant once established.

Pyramidal when young becoming rounded with age. Straight trunk, diameters of 20-39” in mature trees with horizontal, spreading branches drooping slightly downward with age. Bark dark gray and
flaky when young becoming reddish brown and furrowed/scaly when mature. Cavities left after limbs shed create excellent den sites for squirrels, raccoons, opossums as well as beehive sites for honeybees. Pale yellow hard wood used for turnery, tool handles, wheel hubs, boxes, pallets, rough floors, veneer, pulpwood.

Leaves to 5” long, variable oblong to oval, glossy dark green above, paler beneath, wavy margins. Reliable fall color every year. Shades of intensely brilliant scarlet red, orange, yellow to purple. Deer love to eat leaves of young saplings but leave foliage on older trees alone.

Flower is an important source of nectar that attract bees. Small, greenish creamy-white on long stalks, May to June, not showy. Female trees need a male pollinator to set fruit. Oval ½” long fruit, in clusters of 2-3, edible but sour, turn dark blue/black when mature. Fruits are important food source for migrating birds providing valuable energy. Can be used for pies, preserves and drinks.

Full sun to partial shade. Requires slightly acidic or neutral soils. Highly ornamental shade tree, street tree, specimen. Plant in parks, large gardens. Tolerant of de-icing salts and urban pollution. Forms a long taproot. No serious insect or disease problems.