Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Nyssa sylvatica

Blackgum, Black tupelo, Tupelo, Sourgum, Pepperidge, Tupelo gum

Cornaceae (Dogwood Family)

Nyssa sylvatica (Blackgum)
Makin, Julie
Tree with a dense, conical or sometimes flat-topped crown, many slender, nearly horizontal branches, and glossy foliage turning scarlet in autumn. An attractive, variable-shaped deciduous tree, black tupelo grows 30-60 ft. or taller, with horizontally spreading branches. A bottle-shaped trunk forms if grown in shallow standing water. Smooth, waxy, dark-green summer foliage changes to fluorescent yellow, orange, scarlet and purple in fall. (Trees in warmer climates may not be as colorful.) Berries are small and blue.

A handsome ornamental and shade tree, Black Tupelo is also a honey plant. The juicy fruit is consumed by many birds and mammals. This species tolerates drier soils than N. aquatica but also tolerates poor drainage. Swamp Tupelo (N. biflora Walter), a species with narrower oblong leaves, occurs in swamps in the Coastal Plain from Delaware to eastern Texas.

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Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Shape: Obovate
Leaf Texture: Smooth
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Dioecious
Fruit Type: Drupe
Size Notes: Tree to 100 feet tall, with a trunk diameter up to 3 feet; crown rounded.
Leaf: Alternate (although seemingly almost whorled at the tip of the branchlets), simple, obovate, abruptly pointed at the tip, tapering to the base, sometimes with an erratic tooth along the edges, otherwise toothless, smooth and shiny on the upper surface, paler and sometimes hairy on the lower surface, up to 5 inches long, up to 2 inches wide, on stalks 1-1 1/2 inches long.
Autumn Foliage: yes
Flower: Male and female borne on separate trees, appearing after the leaves begin to unfold, the male in spherical clusters, the female 1-several on long stalks arising from the leaf axils.
Fruit: Drupes oval, dark blue, bitter, up to 1/2 inch long, 1-seeded; seed indistinctly ribbed.
Size Class: 72-100 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun


USA: AL , AR , CT , DE , FL , GA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , ME , MD , MA , MI , MS , MO , NH , NJ , NY , NC , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VT , VA , WV , WI , DC
Canada: NB , ON
Native Distribution: S. ME to MI, IL & s.e. MO, s. to FL Panhandle & e. TX
Native Habitat: Low, wet woods; drier, sandy sites

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: None
Soil Description: Various acid soils. Acid-based, Gravelly, Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay.
Conditions 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.


Use Ornamental: Shade tree, Fall conspicuous, Bog or pond area, Water garden
Use Wildlife: Substrate-insectivorous birds, Fruit-birds, Fruit-mammals, Browse, Nectar-bees
Attracts: Birds

Last Update: 2016-08-04