Meet the Trees: Nyssa sylvatica

Meet the Trees: Nyssa sylvatica

Nyssa sylvatica, commonly known as tupelo or black gum tree, is one of the most attractive native trees around. During the summer months, the leaves show are a dark green with a high-gloss appearance, while the fall foliage has an array of colors, including yellow, orange, red, and purple. Also known as sour gum, this tree is medium-sized and native to the eastern portion of North America. It is one of the species listed in the Madison Square Park Tree Conservation Plan: A Canopy for the Future

Black gum trees have an interesting, highly textured bark pattern made up of multi-sided plates and ridges that deepen as the tree ages, developing a scaly appearance. While the wood is not often used for woodworking, it works very well in tool handles where it lends its resilience.

Black gum is dioecious, having either male or female flowers on separate individuals; both types of flowers must be present for fruit to set. Tupelo trees do not have showy flowers, but they are an excellent honey tree and are favored by bees as a pollen source. The fruit is dark blue to purple when mature, and a food source for many animals. 35 species of caterpillars rely on Black gum to complete their life cycle including the Luna Moth, the Royal Walnut Moth, and the Spiny Oak-Slug Moth. 16 species of birds depend on Black gum including the Eastern Bluebird, the Scarlet Tanager, and the Cedar Waxwing.

In the southern U.S., tupelo honey is prized for its unique flavor, and tupelo trees are considered one of the premier trees for honey production.