Characteristics of Black Tupelo Tree (Nyssa sylvatica) in the Wild

Nyssa sylvatica
Black tupelo or Black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) is a medium-sized deciduous tree native to eastern North America. Its habitat starts from the Northeast coast of the United States and southern Ontario, continues to central Florida and east Texas, then to Mexico. The most optimal growth location is on the lower slopes and terraces of the Southeastern United States.

This tree is found in a variety of habitats, from lowlands to highlands in its wide range. The flowers are a source of honey and the fruit is important to many birds and mammals. The tree trunks are often hollow, providing nesting opportunities for bees and various mammals.

Black tupelo is a long-lived non-clonal flowering tree in Eastern North America, it can live to be more than 650 years old.

Today several cultivars of Black tupelo are cultivated as ornamental trees because of their brightly colored and beautiful autumn leaves. One cultivar ‘Wisley Bonfire’ has earned the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

 

Characteristics of Black Tupelo Leaf

Nyssa sylvatica Leaf
Source: flickr.com/Layla

The leaves vary in size and shape. They can be oval, elliptical, or obovate, and between 5-12 cm long. The leaf blade has a shiny top surface, with entire, margins and is often wavy.

The foliage changes color in the fall, ranging from purplish, brown, and finally to an intense bright red.

 

Characteristics of Black Tupelo Flower

Nyssa sylvatica Flower
Source: inaturalist.org/theo_witsell

The flowers are very small, appearing in clusters, and greenish-white at the top of long stalks and a rich source of nectar for bees.

Black tupelos are often dioecious so both male and female trees nearby are needed to set seed, however, many trees are also polygamous-dioecious, meaning they have both male and female flowers on the same tree.

 

Characteristics of Black Tupelo Fruit

Nyssa sylvatica Fruit
Source: inaturalist.org/waynesweeds

The fruit is black-blue, ovoid, about 10 mm long with a thin, oily, bitter flesh, and is very popular with birds, especially the American robin.

 

Characteristics of Black Tupelo Tree

Nyssa sylvatica Tree
Source: flickr.com/tugwatoon

Black tupelo grows to a height of 25 meters (rarely up to 30 meters), with a trunk diameter of 50-100 cm. This tree usually has a straight trunk with elongated branches.

The bark is dark gray and scaly when young, but becomes wrinkled with age. The twigs are reddish-brown, usually covered with grayish bark.

When the black tupelo tree is young, it has already formed a large, deep taproot, which makes transplanting difficult. Because of this, this tree is quite rare in the cultivation and nursery trade.

 

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