Botanical Name: Nyssa sylvatica
Common Name: Tupelo, Blackgum, Black Tupelo, Sour Gum, Pepperidge, Tupelo Gum, Beetlebung
Description: This is one of the most beautiful native Florida trees around. Summer leaves are a dark green with a high-gloss appearance, but the most spectacular part of this tree is the fall foliage with many shades of yellow, orange, bright red, purple, or scarlet that may appear on the same branch before dropping for the winter season. Bark matures to medium gray and resembles alligator hide. Bluish-black berries appear in August – October. Makes a strong specimen shade tree. Grows 30-50′ high, with a 20-30′ spread. This is a very versatile tree in where it grows: It prefers moist soils, but is adaptive and tolerates poorly-drained soils and standing water, some drought, and some dry soils, at least in the wild. It tolerates many different soil types including clay. The one thing it does need is acidic soil, which we have in this area. It has a lot of issues when grown in alkaline soils. Does fine in bog or pond areas as well as regular garden areas. Growth rate is slow to medium: anywhere from less than 12″ to 24″ per year. Is drought tolerant after established. Can grow in sun, part sun, or part shade. Has very good hurricane wind resistance.
The Black Tupelo supports lots of different wildlife, which is a huge reason we plant native. Its young sprouts are eaten by white-tailed deer. The berries are enjoyed by wild turkeys, black bear, foxes, raccoons, and possums from August through October. The natural hollows that form in the tree are a refuge for reptiles, tree frogs, bats, and other wildlife. It is one of the most important food sources for fall song bird migration. Birds that feed off Tupelo fruit include the American Robin, Swainson’s Thrush, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Wood Thrush, Cardinal, Mockingbird, Blue Jay, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Bluebird, European Starling, Scarlet Tanager, Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, and the Crow.
It’s also the host plant for lots of moths: Allotria elonympha (False Underwing), Antispila nysaefoliella (Tupelo Leafminer), Comachara cadburyi (Cadbury’s Mystique), Darapsa pholus (Azalea Sphinx), Malacosoma disstria (Forest Tent Caterpillar), Paectes ostoloides (Large Paectes), Polygrammate hebraeicum (The Hebrew), and Probole alienaria (Alien Probole).
It has special value to honey bees for the spring flowers’ nectar, which is where the highly prized Black Tupelo Honey comes from. Black Gum Tupelo honey has a light amber color and is very thick.
It has a flowering habit that is polygamodioecious, meaning that some plants have mostly male flowers while others have mostly female flowers, with most plants having a few perfect flowers. This would account for some plants being loaded with egg-shaped blue-black berries, while others may only have a few berries.
Like many trees, the Black Tupelo barely makes it into the edible realm. The pulp of its fruit is technically edible but extremely sour and extremely bitter, which is why it is usually used in sweetened preserves. Now you know where one of its common names, Sour Gum, comes from.
Bottom line is if you have the room, you should be growing this amazing native tree.
Not salt tolerant of inundation by salty or brackish water. Moderate tolerance of salty wind and may get some salt spray.
This plant in 3-gallon containers is 2-4′ tall.
This plant in 7-gallon containers is 4-6′ tall.
This plant in 15-gallon containers is 6-8′ tall.
Interesting Tidbit: The genus name, Nyssa, refers to mythical water nymphs, read a fondness for wet places. Nysa was a water nymph and nurse to Bacchus. Sylvatia means of the woods (Black Tupelo); Aquatica is living in water (Swamp Tupelo); Ogeche is from Ogeechee, which is Creek for “our mother” (Ogeechee Tupelo).
Hardiness Zones 4 – 9