Nyssa aquatica L.
Water Tupelo, Blackgum, Sourgum, Cotton Gum, Swamp Tupelo, Water Gum
Cornaceae (Dogwood Family)
Synonym(s): Nyssa uniflora
USDA Symbol: NYAQ2
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
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial
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.
Size Class: 72-100 ft.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Green
Bloom Time: Apr , May
DistributionUSA: 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 ConditionsWater 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 InsectsSpecial Value to Honey Bees
This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
PropagationDescription: 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
From the National Organizations DirectoryAccording to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE
BibliographyBibref 298 - Field Guide to Texas Trees (1999) Simpson, B.J.
Search More Titles in Bibliography
Web ReferenceWebref 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 resourcesUSDA: Find Nyssa aquatica in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Nyssa aquatica in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Nyssa aquatica
MetadataRecord Modified: 2015-11-09
Research By: TWC Staff