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Nyssa sylvatica (Tupelo)
Makin, Julie

Nyssa sylvatica

Nyssa sylvatica Marshall

Tupelo, Blackgum, Black Tupelo, Sourgum, Pepperidge, Tupelo Gum, Beetlebung

Cornaceae (Dogwood Family)

Synonym(s): Nyssa sylvatica var. caroliniana, Nyssa sylvatica var. dilatata, Nyssa sylvatica var. typica


USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

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.


From the Image Gallery

27 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

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.

Bloom Information

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


USA: AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MO , MS , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV
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

Value to Beneficial Insects

Special Value to Honey Bees

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


Propagation Material: Seeds
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:

Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Crosby Arboretum - Picayune, MS
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE
Wellspring Organic Farm and Education Center - West Bend, WI


Bibref 298 - Field Guide to Texas Trees (1999) Simpson, B.J.
Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender

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


Record Modified: 2022-06-25
Research By: TWC Staff

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