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Pepperidge Nyssa sylvatica

Other Common Name(s):

Phonetic Spelling
NY-suh sil-VAT-ee-kuh
Description

Blackgum or Black Tupelo is a native deciduous tree that grows throughout North Carolina and can reach 50 to 80 feet tall, but typically reaches 20 to 30 feet in cultivation. Trunk diameter is typically 1 to 2 feet,  but can reach 4 to 5 feet in taller specimens.  It tolerates many soil types and moisture conditions, but is slow growing, reaching about 12 to 15 feet in about ten years, growing faster with a good watering and fertilizer schedule. It is found in dry upland forests (occasionally bottomlands), savannas, swamp margins, and upland depressions that are occasionally flooded. It can also be found in the hills and mountains on dry slopes with oaks and hickories. The Blackgum is grown as an ornamental for its beautiful, scarlet red, fall color and the shiny, dark green leaves in the summer.  

It has a flowering habit that is polygamodioecious, meaning that some plants have mostly male flowers while others have mostly female flowers, with most plants having a few perfect flowers. This would account for some plants being loaded with egg-shaped blue-black berries, while others may only have a few berries.The tree does well in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. It prefers moist, acidic soils, but is adaptive and tolerates poorly-drained soils and standing water, some drought and some dry soils, at least in the wild. Female trees need a male pollinator to set fruit. The nectar from the flowers is sought after by bees and Tupelo honey is highly prized.

This tree is an excellent choice to support wildlife in the landscape. However, it should be sited in a permanent location because its long taproot makes it difficult to transplant later. It is tolerant of drought, heat, dry and wet soils, and moderately salt tolerant.  It withstands wind and ice and salt spray in coastal locations.  

Key Identifying Characteristics:  Leaf shape (broadest near the tip), irregular coarse teeth near the tips of some leaves, and branches held more or less 90 degrees to the main stem,

Key to Nyssa

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems: 

No known diseases or pests. Leaf miner and scale are occasional insect pests.  It has some susceptibility to leaf spots, canker, and rust.

See this plant in the following landscape:
Entrance Statement, Fescue Grass
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Autumn Cascades'
    Weeping
  • 'Green Gable'
    Upright branching, red fall color
  • 'Red Rage'
    Bright red fall color, little leaf spot.
  • 'Red Splyndor'
    Red fall color
  • 'Sheri's Cloud'
    Variegated foliage
  • 'Snow Flurries'
  • 'Sparkler'
  • Swamp Tupelo
    Nyssa sylvatica v biflora - true swamp species found with cypress. Narrow leaves, deeply ridged seeds.
  • 'Wildfire'
    New growth bronze-red
  • 'Zydeco Twist'
    Contorted growth
'Autumn Cascades', 'Green Gable', 'Red Rage', 'Red Splyndor', 'Sheri's Cloud', 'Snow Flurries', 'Sparkler', Swamp Tupelo, 'Wildfire', 'Zydeco Twist'
Tags:
#bees#deciduous#fall color#shade tree#heat tolerant#drought tolerant#wildlife plant#slow growing#native tree#shade tolerant#honey bees#nectar plant#street tree#reptiles#honey#food source#wind tolerant#low flammability#NC native#foxes#black bears#bats#wild turkeys#racoons#thrushes#opossums#deer resistant#glossy leaves#frogs#fire resistant#bears#pollinator plant#Braham Arboretum#honeybees#food source summer#NC Native Pollinator Plant#food source herbage#food source nectar#coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#fruits#bird friendly#dry soils tolerant#mammals#food source soft mast fruit#fall color red#audubon#wet soil intolerant
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Autumn Cascades'
    Weeping
  • 'Green Gable'
    Upright branching, red fall color
  • 'Red Rage'
    Bright red fall color, little leaf spot.
  • 'Red Splyndor'
    Red fall color
  • 'Sheri's Cloud'
    Variegated foliage
  • 'Snow Flurries'
  • 'Sparkler'
  • Swamp Tupelo
    Nyssa sylvatica v biflora - true swamp species found with cypress. Narrow leaves, deeply ridged seeds.
  • 'Wildfire'
    New growth bronze-red
  • 'Zydeco Twist'
    Contorted growth
'Autumn Cascades', 'Green Gable', 'Red Rage', 'Red Splyndor', 'Sheri's Cloud', 'Snow Flurries', 'Sparkler', Swamp Tupelo, 'Wildfire', 'Zydeco Twist'
Tags:
#bees#deciduous#fall color#shade tree#heat tolerant#drought tolerant#wildlife plant#slow growing#native tree#shade tolerant#honey bees#nectar plant#street tree#reptiles#honey#food source#wind tolerant#low flammability#NC native#foxes#black bears#bats#wild turkeys#racoons#thrushes#opossums#deer resistant#glossy leaves#frogs#fire resistant#bears#pollinator plant#Braham Arboretum#honeybees#food source summer#NC Native Pollinator Plant#food source herbage#food source nectar#coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#fruits#bird friendly#dry soils tolerant#mammals#food source soft mast fruit#fall color red#audubon#wet soil intolerant
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Nyssa
    Species:
    sylvatica
    Family:
    Nyssaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Wood is touch, cross-grained, hard to work, and warps easily. It is often used for crates, cross ties, rough floors, and pulpwood.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Layering
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Eastern North America
    Distribution:
    Maine south to Florida, west to Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri northeast through Illinoise and Michigan and Ontario.
    Fire Risk Rating:
    low flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    Its young sprouts are eaten by white-tailed deer.  The fruits (berries) are enjoyed by thrushes and other songbirds, wild turkeys, black bear, foxes, raccoons and opossums from August through October. It is one of the most important food sources for fall song bird migration.  The natural hollows that form in the tree are a refuge for reptiles, tree frogs, bats and other wildlife.  The spring flowers are a nectar source for bees.
    Play Value:
    Wildlife Food Source
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Resistant to fire. This tree is somewhat resistant to deer damage.
    Edibility:
    Fruit can be eaten raw or cooked. Produces a thin sharply acid pulp that is pleasant to roll in the mouth as a masticatory, it is also used in preserves. The honey bees produce from the flowers of this tree is highly prized.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 30 ft. 0 in. - 100 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 20 ft. 8 in. - 35 ft. 6 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Open
    Pyramidal
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Occasionally Dry
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    12-24 feet
    24-60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Black
    Blue
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Fruit Length:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    Female trees only. In the late summer to mid-fall the tree produces a bluish black egg-shaped 1/2 inch wide fruit clustered on stalks up to 1 1/2 inches long. Fruits are available August-October. Thin, bitter smelling flesh surrounds the small, ribbed seeds.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Insignificant
    Umbel
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The flowers bloom in the spring from April-June are not showy. Individual flowers are about an 1/8 of an inch.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Orange
    Purple/Lavender
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Orange
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Oblong
    Leaf Margin:
    Dentate
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Leaves are 3 to 6 inches long and 1/2 to 3 inches wide, alternate, roughly oval with sharp, blunt points. Leaves turn yellow, orange, red to purple in the fall. On sprouts or young trees, the leaves may have a few coarse teeth.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Black
    Light Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Ridges
    Bark Plate Shape:
    Rectangle
    Square
    Bark Description:
    The bark is light grey and deeply furrowed to create rectangular or square ridges (cobbled). Bark on younger trees is furrowed between flat ridges and matures into quadrangular blocks that are dense, hard, and nearly black.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Description:
    Slender limbs grow at right angles to the trunk.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Coastal
    Lawn
    Riparian
    Landscape Theme:
    Drought Tolerant Garden
    Native Garden
    Nighttime Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Shade Tree
    Specimen
    Street Tree
    Attracts:
    Bats
    Bees
    Frogs
    Pollinators
    Reptiles
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Specialized Bees
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Dry Soil
    Fire
    Heat
    Salt
    Wet Soil
    Wind