Black Gum TreeNyssa sylvatica
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Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Black Gum Tree, or Tupelo, is a highlight of fall, producing the most powerful display imaginable. Rich tones of red, purple and orange light up the garden with a power you would not have believed possible, leaving all but a few other trees looking pale and insignificant. The summer leaves are beautiful too, with a rich green color and a glossy surface quite unlike other deciduous shade trees. With a beautiful pyramidal form and a central trunk, this tree is as graceful as it is colorful. The insignificant flowers produce a crop of small blue berries that will attract migrating birds to your garden.
You can grow the Black Gum Tree from zones 4 or 5 to zone 9, and it is best to plant it in full sun for the most powerful fall colors. It grows in almost any soil, including soils that are often wet, or even permanently flooded. Yet once established it is surprisingly drought tolerant too, and it grows well in all but alkaline soils. Free of pests and diseases, this tree is easy to grow, and is one of the most beautiful and desirable shade and woodland trees there is.
Choosing a shade tree can be difficult. There are so many to choose from, and it can be hard to decide what is most important to you – rapid growth? Fall color? Ultimate size? Soil? Ease of care? All these thoughts come crowding in and too often we solve them by going for the obvious and well-worn choice of a maple, perhaps. Yet the world of trees is huge, and with a little more thought it is easy to find something more distinctive and valuable. After all, this tree is going to be around after you are gone, so why not leave something exceptionally beautiful for the future, that you too can enjoy now? To experience the most striking fall colors you will ever see, combined with unique glossy foliage in spring and summer, on a tree that really has no downsides, go for the Black Gum, or to use its more romantic name, the Tupelo Tree.
The Black Gum is a large deciduous tree with a moderate rate of growth, which in time will reach 30 to 50 feet tall with a broad spread of 20 or 30 feet. When young it has a handsome pyramidal form, with a strong upright trunk and radiating side branches. This tree is notable for retaining a single central stem to the top, and only in age does the crown spread. In time it becomes more rounded, or even flat-topped, making a specimen of great beauty. With many upsides and almost no downsides, you can’t go wrong choosing this tree for your garden. Plant it as a specimen on a lawn, alone, or in an eye-catching cluster of 3 or 5 trees. Add it to existing wooded areas or build a backdrop to your garden with a range of beautiful trees, including this one, to look out on through the changing seasons.
Even the bark of the Black Gum is special. It is reddish-brown, divided vertically with deep furrows, and horizontally with shorter ones, producing long, narrow plates of bark, often with six sides. Mature trees have a rugged, noble look. The leaves of the Black Gum are unusual, because they are simple ovals, with a striking glossy surface, and look more like the leaves of an evergreen than of a deciduous tree. They are formed as simple oblongs to ovals, between 2 and 5 inches long, and tend to cluster at the ends of the branches. With their glossy look this is a handsome tree throughout the spring and summer. In warmer zones the leaves stay green late, into November, but when fall color arrives, you will know it. The Black Gum is one of the most outstanding trees for its fall colors, when your tree will turn into a pillar of fire. This tree takes on extraordinary shades of crimson, purple and orange that must be seen to be believed, and that brightens your garden like no other tree can.
The Black Gum flowers in May or June, but the small, greenish flowers are inconspicuous and often not noticed. In fall it produces a crop of blueberries, in clusters of 2 or 3, which are great favorites with birds, and a valuable food crop, particularly for migratory birds. The berries are sour, but edible, with a pleasant flavor and no bitterness, and they can be made into preserves and drinks.
Grow the Black Gum in moist, acidic to neutral soils. It is not suitable for alkaline soils, but it will grow in most other types of soil. Trees will grow larger in deep soils, but they grow satisfactorily even on shallow soil. This tree is very notable for growing in wet ground, and even in areas with permanent shallow flooding, just as it is often seen in natural locations. This tree is therefore very valuable for planting along streams and beside lakes, in low-lying areas or in places subject to periodic flooding. But it is just as happy in ordinary garden soil, and once it has become well established it has moderate drought resistance. The Black Gum can be grown in sheltered locations in zone 4, and everywhere else, from zone 5 to 9. Full sun will give you the best fall colors, but the tree is happy to grow in partial shade. In shade the fall colors will be mostly yellow to orange, with fewer of the rich reds and purples. It is not susceptible to any pests or diseases, besides some occasional, harmless, spotting of the leaves in humid areas. The only restriction on this tree is in placement. Choose the spot for your tree carefully, because once it has become established it cannot be moved successfully, so plant it where it is always going to be.
The Black Gum is one of three species of Nyssa growing in North America. It is also sometimes called sour gum, black tupelo, or tupelo. That name comes from Muscogee and Seminole languages, ito, meaning ‘tree’ and opilwa, meaning ‘swamp’. Known as Nyssa sylvatica, it grows naturally all the way from southern Ontario, Canada, to Florida, Texas and Mexico. Although its flowers do produce nectar which makes honey, the true ‘tupelo honey’ comes from Nyssa ogeche, the Ogeechee lime, which has a very different large, red fruit. You can’t go wrong planting the magnificent Black Gum Tree in your garden, so order them right away – a tree like this is always in high demand and our stock sells fast – don’t miss out.