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Nyssa aquatica (Water tupelo)
Wasowski, Sally and Andy

Nyssa aquatica

Nyssa aquatica L.

Water Tupelo, Blackgum, Sourgum, Cotton Gum, Swamp Tupelo, Water Gum

Cornaceae (Dogwood Family)

Synonym(s): Nyssa uniflora

USDA Symbol: NYAQ2

USDA Native Status: L48 (N)

Large aqautic tree with swollen base, long, straight trunk, narrow, open crown of spreading branches, and large, shiny leaves. Water tupelo is a narrow-crowned, flood-tolerant, deciduous tree, 50-100 ft. tall, with a buttressed base. It is very symmetrical and pyramid-shaped in its early years, but develops an irregular form with age. Large, glossy, dark-green leaves turn yellow in fall. Fruit ripens to black.

This aquatic tree was named Nyssa after one of the ancient Greek water nymphs or goddesses of lakes and rivers. The name Tupelo is from Creek Indian words meaning "swamp tree." The spongy wood of the roots has served locally as a substitute for cork in floats of fish nets.


From the Image Gallery

5 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Shape: Oblong , Ovate
Leaf Base: Cordate
Leaf Texture: Smooth
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Dioecious
Fruit Type: Drupe
Size Notes: Tree up to 100 feet tall, with trunk diameter up to 4 feet; crown spreading; trunk swollen at the base becoming 10 to 12 feet in diameter.
Leaf: Alternate, simple, ovate to oblong, pointed at the tip, rounded or slightly heart-shaped at the base, with an occasional coarse tooth or toothless, smooth or somewhat hairy on the upper surface, paler and soft-hairy on the lower surface, up to 8 inches long and up to 4 inches wide, on hairy stalks up to 3 inches long.
Flower: Male and female borne on separate trees, appearing as the leaves begin to unfold, greenish, small, the male in spherical clusters, the female solitary on long stalks.
Fruit: Drupes oblong, dark purple with pale speckles, bitter, up to 1 1/2 inches long, 1-seeded; seed flattened and longitudinally ridged.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Green
Bloom Time: Apr , May


USA: AL , AR , DC , FL , GA , IL , KY , LA , MO , MS , NC , SC , TN , TX , VA
Native Distribution: FL to e. TX, n. to VA, TN, KY, IL & MO
Native Habitat: Swamps; floodplain forests; lake & pond margins

Growing Conditions

Water Use: High
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Wet
CaCO3 Tolerance: None
Soil Description: Wet, rich soils.
Conditions Comments: Tupelo has a moderate growth rate and is recommended for pond landscaping. It can grow in standing water or moist, well-drained sites.

Value to Beneficial Insects

Special Value to Honey Bees

This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.


Description: Sow fresh or stratified seed in a moist, muddy soil covered by one inch of firm soil. Seedlings benefit from partial shade.
Seed Collection: Collect seed in late summer or early fall. Remove pulp and air-dry for one to two days. Store in moist sand at 48-51 degrees for up to one year.
Seed Treatment: Stratify for 30-60 days at 41 degrees.
Commercially Avail: yes

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE


Bibref 298 - Field Guide to Texas Trees (1999) Simpson, B.J.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 17 - Southern Wetland Flora: Field Office Guide to Plant Species (0) U.S. Department of Agriculture. No date. Southern wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. U.S.D.A. Soil Conservation Service, South Nat...

Additional resources

USDA: Find Nyssa aquatica in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Nyssa aquatica in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Nyssa aquatica


Record Modified: 2015-11-09
Research By: TWC Staff

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