Blackgum; Black Tupelo
Although not considered a ‘bread & butter’ shade tree in the nursery industry, black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) is well worth the hunt. Native from Ontario, and spreading south to Texas and Florida, this underutilized tree is a ‘hot plant’ for Arkansas. Black gum may have the most reliable red fall color of any native tree.
During the growing season, the elliptic-shaped leaves are a glossy, dark green. Starting in early November, almost as a harbinger of fall color to come, the leaves turn the most brilliant, rich red, imaginable. Upon close inspection, some might be surprised to see these brilliant leaves disfigured with leaf spots. Although common, the disease does not take away from the overall impact. If the disfiguring leaf spot worries you, many of the newer selections offered in the nursery trade are focused on less leaf spot. Possibly the best selection to date is Red RageR (‘Hayman Red’).
Like many other shade trees, the flowers and fruits are not huge selling points. The yellowish-green flowers are followed by an oblong ‘blueberry’. Black gum is also fairly consistent in plant habit. In a majority of cases the tree is clearly taller than it is wide, kind of like tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera).
- Common Name: black gum; black tupelo
- Varieties to look for: few in trade
- Flower Color: NS
- Blooming period: NS
- Type: deciduous tree
- Size: 55’ tall x 25’ wide
- Exposure: full sun to partial shade
- Soil: prefers moist, acid, deep soils
- Watering: moist best
- When to prune: as needed
- Suggested use: lawn tree, specimen, naturalizing