By: Jackie Carroll
Native to the Eastern U.S., the tupelo tree is an attractive shade tree that thrives in open areas with plenty of room to spread and grow. Find out about tupelo tree care and maintenance in this article.
Care and Uses for Tupelo Trees
There are many uses for tupelo trees in areas large enough to accommodate their size. They make excellent shade trees and can serve as street trees where overhead wires aren’t a concern. Use them to naturalize low, boggy areas and places with periodic flooding.
Tupelo trees are an important food source for wildlife. Many species of birds, including wild turkeys and wood ducks, eat the berries and a few species of mammals, such as raccoons and squirrels, also enjoy the fruit. White-tailed deer browse on the tree’s twigs.
Tupelo tree growing conditions include full sun or partial shade and deep, acidic, evenly moist soil. Trees planted in alkaline soil die young. Even though they prefer wet soil, they tolerate brief periods of drought. One thing they won’t tolerate is pollution, whether it is in the soil or the air, so it’s best to keep them out of urban environments.
Types of Tupelo Trees
The white tupelo gum tree (Nyssa ogeche ‘Bartram’) is limited by its environment. It has a native range that centers around Northwest Florida in a low area fed by the Chattahoochee River system. Although it grows in other areas as well, you won’t find another region with the concentration of white tupelos equal to this 100-mile (160 km.) long stretch near the Gulf of Mexico. The area is famous for its high-quality tupelo honey.
The most common and familiar tupelo trees are the black gum tupelo trees (Nyssa sylvatica). These trees stand up to 80 feet (24 m.) tall at maturity. They usually have a 1.5-foot to 3-foot (45 cm. to 90 cm.) wide, straight trunk, although you may occasionally see a split trunk. The leaves are shiny and bright green in summer, turning several lovely shades of red, orange, yellow and purple in fall. The tree remains interesting in winter because its regular, horizontal branches give it an attractive profile. The birds that visit the tree to clean up the last of the berries also add winter interest.
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- 1 Names
- 2 Description
- 3 Distribution
- 4 Ecology
- 4.1 Habitats
- 4.2 Wildlife
- 5 Uses
- 5.1 Cultivation
- 5.2 Honey production
- 5.3 Wood
- 5.4 Teeth-cleaning twig
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Nyssa sylvatica 's genus name, Nyssa, refers to a Greek water nymph  the species epithet sylvatica refers to its woodland habitat. 
The species' common name, tupelo, is of Native American origin, coming from the Creek words ito "tree" and opilwa "swamp" it was in use by the mid-18th century. 
While these trees are often known as simply "tupelo", the fuller name, black tupelo, helps distinguish it from the other species of the tupelo genus Nyssa, some of which have overlapping ranges, such as water tupelo (N. aquatica) and swamp tupelo (N. biflora). The name "tupelo" is used primarily in the American South northward and in Appalachia, the tree is more commonly called the black gum or the sour gum, although no part of the plant is particularly gummy.  Both of these names contrast it with a different tree species with a broadly overlapping range, the sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), which does produce an aromatic resin.  Another common name used occasionally in the Northeast is pepperidge. 
In Appalachia, the frequent variant is Nyssa sylvatica var. caroliniana, which is sometimes called the Yellow Gum. Its leaflets are thinner and less glossy, "with rather long tips, the under surface persistently somewhat downy and covered with minute warty excrescences easily seen under an ordinary hand lens"  "Yellow Gum is not a swamp tree, like Black Gum, but an inhabitant of dry land, hills, and the coves of the southern Appalachians which it ascends to 3500 f. 
On Martha's Vineyard, in Massachusetts, this species is called "beetlebung", perhaps for its use in making the mallet known as a beetle, used for hammering bungs (stoppers) into barrels. 
Nyssa sylvatica grows to 20–25 metres (66–82 ft) tall, rarely to 35 metres (115 ft), with a trunk diameter of 50–100 centimetres (20–39 in), rarely up to 170 centimetres (67 in). These trees typically have a straight trunk with the branches extending outward at right angles.  The bark is dark gray and flaky when young, but it becomes furrowed with age, resembling alligator hide on very old stems. The twigs of this tree are reddish-brown, usually hidden by a greyish skin. The pith is chambered with greenish partitions.
The leaves of this species are variable in size and shape. They can be oval, elliptical, or obovate, and 5–12 cm (2–4.5 in) long. They have lustrous upper surfaces, with entire, often wavy margins. The foliage turns purple in autumn, eventually becoming an intense bright scarlet. Deer are extremely fond of the leaves on seedlings and saplings, to the point where large populations of them can make establishment of the tree almost impossible. For comparison, mature trees are largely left alone.
The flowers are very small, in greenish-white in clusters at the top of a long stalk and a rich source or nectar for bees. They are often dioecious so a male and female tree in proximity is required to set seed, however, many trees are also polygamo-dioecious, which means they have both male and female flowers on the same tree. The fruit is a black-blue, ovoid stone fruit, about 10 mm long with a thin, oily, bitter-to-sour tasting flesh and very popular with small bird species. There are from one to three fruits together on a long slender stalk. They are a valuable energy food for birds, especially the American robin.
Nyssa sylvatica forms a large deep taproot when young that makes transplanting difficult. Because of this, it is fairly uncommon in cultivation and the nursery trade.
Additional characteristics include:
- Bark: Light reddish brown, deeply furrowed and scaly. Branchlets at first pale green to orange, sometimes smooth, often downy, later dark brown.
- Wood: Pale yellow, sapwood white heavy, strong, very tough, hard to split, not durable in contact with the soil. Used for turnery. Sp. gr., 0.6353 weight of cu. ft., 39.59.
- Winter buds: Dark red, obtuse, one-fourth of an inch long. Inner scales enlarge with the growing shoot, becoming red before they fall.
- Leaves: Alternate, often crowded at the end of the lateral branches, simple, linear, oblong to oval, two to five inches (127 mm) long, one-half to three inches (76 mm) broad, wedge-shaped or rounded at base, entire, with margin slightly thickened, acute or acuminate. They come out of the bud conduplicate, coated beneath with rusty tomentum, when full grown are thick, dark green, very shining above, pale and often hairy beneath. Feather-veined, midrib and primary veins prominent beneath. In autumn they turn bright scarlet, or yellow and scarlet. Petioles one-quarter to one-half an inch long, slender or stout, terete or margined, often red.
- Flowers: May, June, when leaves are half grown. Polygamodiœcious, yellowish green, borne on slender downy peduncles. Staminate in many-flowered heads pistillate in two to several flowered clusters.
- Calyx: Cup-shaped, five-toothed.
- Corolla: Petals five, imbricate in bud, yellow green, ovate, thick, slightly spreading, inserted on the margin of the conspicuous disk.
- Stamens: Five to twelve. In staminate flowers exserted, in pistillate short, often wanting.
- Pistil: Ovary inferior, one to two-celled style stout, exserted, reflexed above the middle. Entirely wanting in sterile flower. Ovules, one in each cell.
- Fruit: Fleshy drupe, one to three from each flower cluster. Ovoid, two-thirds of an inch long, dark blue, acid. Stone more or less ridged. October. 
Nyssa sylvatica grows in various uplands and in alluvial stream bottoms from southwestern Maine and New York, to extreme southern Ontario, central Michigan, Illinois, and central Missouri, south to southern Florida, eastern Texas, and eastern Oklahoma. It also occurs locally in central and southern Mexico.  Optimum development is made on lower slopes and terraces in the Southeastern United States. 
Nyssa sylvatica is found in a variety of upland and wetland habitats in its extensive range. Its flowers are an important source of honey and its fruits are important to many birds and mammals.  Hollow trunks provide nesting or denning opportunities for bees and various mammals. It is the longest living non-clonal flowering plant in Eastern North America, capable of obtaining ages of over 650 years. 
Nyssa sylvatica is found in a wide range of climates, due to its extensive distribution. It commonly grows in both the creek bottoms of the southern coastal plains, to altitudes of about 900 meters (3,000 feet) in the Southern Appalachians. These trees grow best on well-drained, light-textured soils on the low ridges of second bottoms and on the high flats of silty alluvium. In the uplands it grows best on the loams and clay loams of lower slopes and coves.
The species occurs 35 different forest cover types.  When found on drier upper slopes and ridges, it is seldom of log size or quality. 
Nyssa sylvatica is an important food source for many migrating birds in the fall [autumn]. Its early color change (foliar fruit flagging) is thought to attract birds to the available fruit, which ripen before many other fall fruits and berries. The fruit is quite marked, dark blue, in clusters of two or three. The sour fruits are eagerly sought by many kinds of birds, including: American robin, Swainson's thrush, gray-cheeked thrush, hermit thrush, wood thrush, northern cardinal, northern mockingbird, blue jay, red-bellied woodpecker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, northern flicker, pileated woodpecker, eastern phoebe, brown thrasher, eastern bluebird, European starling, scarlet tanager, gray catbird, cedar waxwing, and American crow, [ citation needed ] all primarily eastern North American birds migrating or residing year-round within the tree's range.
The limbs of these trees often deteriorate early, and the decayed holes make excellent dens for squirrels, raccoons, Virginia opossums, as well as nesting sites for honeybees.
Nyssa sylvatica is cultivated as an ornamental tree in parks and large gardens, where it is often used as a specimen or shade tree. The tree is best when grown in sheltered but not crowded positions, developing a pyramidal shape in youth, and spreading with age. The stem rises to the summit of the tree in one tapering unbroken shaft, the branches come out at right angles to the trunk and either extend horizontally or droop a little, making a long-narrow, cone-like head.
The leaves are short-petioled and so have little individual motion, but the branches sway as a whole. The spray is fine and abundant and lies horizontally so that the foliage arrangement is not unlike that of the beech (Fagus). Its often spectacular autumnal coloring, with intense reds to purples, is highly valued in landscape settings. It is claimed to be the most fiery and brilliant of the 'brilliant group' that includes maple, dogwood, sassafras, and sweet gum, as well as various species of tupelo. 
Honey production Edit
Nyssa sylvatica is a major source of wild honey in many areas within its range. Hollow sections of black gum trunks were formerly used as bee gums by beekeepers. 
The wood of Nyssa sylvatica is heavy, hard, cross-grained, and difficult to split, especially after drying. This resistance to splitting led to its use for making mauls, pulleys, wheel hubs, agricultural rollers, bowls, and paving blocks.  The wood is also used for pallets, rough floors, pulpwood, and firewood. Since the wood is very tough, resistant to wear, it has been used for shuttles in weaving. Because it is resistant to wear and very readily accepts creosote-based preservatives it is considered to be a premier wood for making railroad ties.  The wood's resistance to wear and some acids has led to its use as factory flooring.
Teeth-cleaning twig Edit
It was also used traditionally by Native Americans as a teeth-cleaning twig.  It also was used for dipping snuff.
- ^ Stritch, L. (2018). "Nyssa sylvatica10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-1.RLTS.T61990588A61990590.en". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018. |access-date= requires |url= (help) no identifier
- "Tupelo, Black gum, sour gum - Nyssa sylvatica". University of Copenhagen . Retrieved May 15, 2018 .
- ^ abcdefg
- Werthner, William B. (1935). Some American Trees: An intimate study of native Ohio trees. New York: The Macmillan Company. pp. xviii + 398 pp.
- New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition.
- ^ ab
- Peattie, Donald Culross (1991). A natural history of trees of eastern and central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 499–500. ISBN978-0-395-58174-2 . Retrieved 14 September 2020 .
- Paxton, William C. (2014). "Why Do They Call It a Gum Tree?". Penn State Extension . Retrieved 2014-09-14 .
- ^ ab
- Keeler, Harriet L. (1900). Our Native Trees and How to Identify Them. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 186–189.
- ^Coladonato, Milo 1992. Nyssa sylvatica. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. Retrieved 2012-09-30.
- ^ abc“Black Tupelo” US Forest Service. Retrieved 2012-09-30.
- Little, Elbert L. (1980). The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region. New York: Knopf. p. 620. ISBN0-394-50760-6 .
adk/oldlisteast/#spp Eastern OLDLIST
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Scientific Name: Tilia americana
Bloom Time: Late spring to early summer
Region: Eastern United States and Canada
Basswood, or linden, is a favorite of beekeepers because its nectar is irresistible to honey bees. Some beekeepers even market basswood honey. Observe basswood in bloom, and you'll see bumblebees, sweat bees, and even nectar-loving flies and wasps visiting its flowers.
Black Tupelo, A Native American Fruit Tree
Nyssa sylvatica, Black Tupelo leaves and unripe fruits (Photo By: Richard Webb / bugwood.org)
Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) , also called black gum tree is a North Eastern American native tree producing edible fruit in the fall. There are 2 other species in the genus native to South Eastern US, they are the Ogeechee Lime (Nyssa ogeche) and Water Tupelo (Nyssa aquatica), This article primarily focuses on Nyssa silvatica but many points could apply to either of the other species. Tupelo was a native American food, and the name “tupelo” comes from the native American muscogee language, meaning “swamp tree”, referring to the southern species of tupelo.
Edibility and Culinary Use
Nyssa sylvatica, Black Tupelo fruits
The fruit is the only known edible part of the tree. The fruits are very tasty, somewhat sour but sweet enough to enjoy raw, there is no bitterness. There is one large seed in the fruit so the fruits aren’t as fleshy as they look. On the other hand the tree is usually loaded with fruits, and it can grow to be 80’ tall, so as fall progresses the ground gets covered in these small fruits. You can find some good ones there on the ground or pick them off the tree if you can reach the branches. The fruits are also often used to flavor pies, preserves, and drinks.
There is very little research done on the health benefits of Tupelo fruits.
Key ID Features
Nyssa sylvatica, Black Tupelo, notice brances growing out at 90 degrees then sloping down (Photo by: Ahodges7 / Wikimedia Commons)
Black Tupelo could be a difficult tree to identify. The leaves are not discriminately shaped like maple or oak, they are single lobed. Whenever I see a large tree that has single lobed leaves I usually say “what is that?” and it reminds me that that’s what I usually say when I see a black tupelo. There is one somewhat unique ID feature which is that the mid-height and lower branches grow out of the tree at almost 90 degrees then slope down unlike most trees where they are angled up. Also notice that the tree has many little black fruits in the fall, and a brilliant reddish colored leaf when the leaves change colors.
Black Tupelo is a great edible fruit tree. This is a plant that makes me wonder what a few thousand years of selective breeding would have gotten us, the fruits are not much smaller than wild cherry fruits and cherries are obviously a common fruit today. Native Americans did not engage in the selective breeding of fruit trees as much as Europeans. Black Tupelo is hardy to zone 3, has great fall foliage and delicious fruits, find one or plant one for a great addition to your foraging ventures.
Nyssa sylvatica, Black Tupelo fall foliage (Photo By: Berean Hunter / Wikimedia Commons)
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Sentinels of the Swamp: Cypress and Tupelo Trees
Rising tall from dark, murky waters, the bald cypress tree is a stately symbol of the swamp. Associated with the bayou, Spanish moss, pelicans, egrets and alligators, the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) is the state tree of Louisiana. Its feathery foliage, wide and buttressed base and irregular crown dominate many southeastern wetlands, and its range extends throughout the southeastern U.S. from southern Delaware to eastern Texas.
Bald cypress prefer saturated or seasonally inundated wetland soils, low elevations, flat topography and humid climates although ornamental species can be cultivated in a variety of climates. While it is a cone bearing member of the coniferous redwood family, it is in fact deciduous, losing its flat, one to two centimeter long needles in the winter, a characteristic that led to it being dubbed the “bald” cypress. “Cypress knees,” or protrusions that grow from the trees’ roots and stick out above the water are thought to help stabilize the tree against hurricane force winds and may aid in respiration for trees that are consistently standing in water.
While the trees are prized for both their construction and ornamental values, they also play a vital role in wetland ecology.
Bald cypress can grow for thousands of years and reach heights of 100-150 feet. The largest pond cypress (considered by some botanists as a variety of bald cypress and by others as a distinct species), called “the Senator” was estimated to be 3,500 years old, making it the fifth oldest tree in the world. The largest tree of any species east of the Mississippi River, with a volume of 5,100 cubic feet, and located in Longwood, Florida, the Senator was tragically destroyed by arson on January 16, 2012.
Old-growth bald cypress are sought after for their heartwood—the cypressene oil they contain is a natural preservative, making the wood resistant to both rot and insects. The gray to red-brown, stringy bark is popular for shredded landscaping mulch. While the trees are prized for both their construction and ornamental values, they also play a vital role in wetland ecology. The buttressed trunks and knees of living cypress, as well as the fallen, dead trees, provide habitat for sh. Eagles and ospreys nest in the crowns. The seeds are a food source for squirrels, wild turkeys, evening grosbeaks and wood ducks.
Cypress swamps are also important for flood mitigation. Acting like a giant sponge, these wetlands absorb water and trap sediments. The cypress trees’ extended, raised root systems help this process by slowing and spreading floodwaters as they flow through a swamp, allowing the water to soak into the soil.
Photo by flickr user finchlake2000
Bald cypress are often found growing with another type of swamp loving tree, the tupelo. Of the Nyssa genus, the tupelo prefers wet soils and seasonal flooding (in Greek mythology, the Nyssa were freshwater nymphs). The name “tupelo,” a common name used for several varieties of Nyssa trees, literally means “swamp tree” in the language of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (ito 'tree' + opilwa 'swamp'). In North America, there are several species of tupelo: black, black gum or swamp tupelo (N. sylvatica, swamp tupelo var. biora) water tupelo, (N. aquatic) and Ogeechee tupelo (N. ogeche).
Black gum, black or swamp tupelo is the most far ranging tupelo tree, extending throughout the eastern and southcentral U.S. The water tupelo has a range nearly identical to the bald cypress tree. Specialized roots allow it to live in consistently inundated environments, and its swollen base, tapering up a long trunk, provides stability in heavy winds and ‑oods. Black and water tupelo wood is used extensively by artistic woodcarvers, especially for carving ducks and other wildfowl. The Ogeechee tupelo's range is limited to northern Florida and the southern portions of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
But the tree is most valued for its role in creating the champagne of honeys, a mild, vanilla flavored nectar, prized by chefs and foodies and even memorialized in song.
Tupelo fruit, high in crude fat, fiber, phosphorous and calcium, is an important wildlife food source, and because of its many cavities, black tupelo is an important den tree species. The tree’s shiny, green, elliptical leaves vary from two to five inches in length and turn purple, then scarlet or yellow in autumn, making it a popular ornamental.
The fruit of the Ogeechee tupelo, referred to as “ogeechee lime,” is sometimes used in drinks, marmalades and sauces. But the tree is most valued for its role in creating the champagne of honeys, a mild, vanilla flavored nectar, prized by chefs and foodies and even memorialized in song.
The center of the commercial tupelo honey industry is the Apalachicola River in the Florida Panhandle, near the Apalachicola National Forest. There, beekeepers transport their beehives by boat and float them along the river swamps during the tupelo blossom in late April and early May to collect the tupelo honey. Once certified through a pollen analysis, the mono‑oral Ogeechee tupelo honey brings a high price.
Want to see these fascinating trees for yourself, but don’t own a boat that can get you through the swamp? No problem: the Bear Swamp Interpretive Trail, in the Salt Springs Recreation Area on the Ocala National Forest, provides a boardwalk through an old-growth cypress swamp. On the Kisatchie National Forest, you can bike or hike the easy Glenn Emery Trail, where a boardwalk gets you across the swampy portions.
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Certified "White Tupelo" honey is only produced commercially in the Apalachicola area of the Florida panhandle. Other types of Tupelo usually come from other varieties of the Tupelo tree and are not certified to be pure "White Tupelo". The article is not very clear on this. anon283631 August 5, 2012
We have tupelo trees in Texas. anon204276 August 8, 2011
I bought Tupelo honey while visiting the Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, SC.. It was stated that Tupelo is harvested there. Interestingly though I bought raw Savannah Tupelo honey a few months ago, which on the jar says that it is produced there in Savannah, GA.
Here's the fact: Water tupelo grows throughout the Coastal Plain from southeastern Virginia to southern Georgia, and from northwestern Florida along the Gulf of Mexico to southeastern Texas. It extends up the Mississippi River Valley as far north as the southern tip of Illinois.
i bought some from fresh market, a grocery store chain of fine foods. anon147823 January 30, 2011
I saw the question about tupelo honey being good for diabetics. What is the answer and why? Myrka
I am from Wakulla County Florida, and live in southwest Florida now. I refuse to buy honey in the grocery store and only get it when I go home. I used to buy it from Mr. Clyde, may he rest in peace. I now need to find someone there who also sells it. It really is the cadillac of all honeys! anon130790 November 29, 2010
We live in cassopolis, mi and have a several groves tupelo trees in our low-line swamp with wonderful tupelo honey every year. anon112324 September 19, 2010
Tupelo Honey is also found in Wakulla County Florida, with several bee keepers in Smith Creek and Sopchoppy FL. My grandfather was a bee keeper for many years and so was my father. The trees grow along the Sopchoppy and Ochlockonee Rivers. anon111948 September 18, 2010
I heard years ago that tupelo honey was safe for diabetic people to use. True? bnf anon109493 September 7, 2010
this is to grannymoe, a possible explanation of "watery or thin" honey.
First, the quality of honey depends on what vegetation is around the bee farmer. For example. in Illinois. honeybees harvesting off buckwheat produce 20 times the anti-oxidant levels as california bees harvesting from sage plants. The darker the honey, the more anti-oxidant and in general higher quality.
Recently farmers, to cheapen their product, feed their bees sugar syrup and sugar water, creating a cheap but highly food-brain-stimulous product. Hope this helps clarify some. anon107577 August 30, 2010
I believe it is originally from Asia and is not indigenous to the USA. anon102899 August 10, 2010
my cousin says this works great for the bad leg cramps he gets and keeps it on his bedside table. anon66000 February 17, 2010
Tupelo honey only comes from two places: Tupelo, Mississippi and Wewawhitchka, Florida. Grannymoe April 22, 2009
I just returned from Daveo (in the Philippines). While there, I purchased a bottle of honey from an elderly woman on the streets. I *think* she called it Tupelo, and it has a very good flavor, though somewhat thinner than most honey. While reading about Tupelo honey, I don't see the Philippines listed. Does anyone know if it is produced there?
Do black gum trees have gumballs?
Gum trees can be messy. They typically drop a lot of dry fruits which are spherical and stick to everything making them tough to remove from the lawn and prickly to bare feet.
Subsequently, question is, how do you identify a black gum tree? You can easily identify a black gum by its:
- Dark and furrowed bark.
- Leaves, which are simple and oval-shaped with a rounded base.
- Small and greenish-white flowers, appearing in springtime with the leaves.
- Fruit, which blossoms when the leaves change color.
Just so, do black gum trees have berries?
In the spring, both male and female black gum trees display small white-green flowers. The female trees also produce small blue berries with a high fibre and fat content that ripen in early fall and are a main food source for many migrating and over-wintering birds.
How fast does a black gum tree grow?
This tree grows at a slow to medium rate, with height increases of anywhere from less than 12" to 24" per year.