Black gum, Black tupelo, or Nyssa sylvatica, is a splendid shade tree with a pyramidal habit and famous color. The generic name refers to the beautiful Greek water nymph Nyssa, while sylvatica is Latin and means “of the woods”. Nymph of the Forest - lovely. This North American native has numerous attractive qualities but first and foremost is the unrivaled autumn colour. This unassuming species has become a connoisseur’s choice and the secret to its attraction lies in its glossy leaves which produce some of the brightest and most reliable displays of the season with only maple and sassafras in the same league.

But, of course, there's more to this tree than simply the most blazing red foliage imaginable, because its appeal is greatly enhanced by the handsome glossy foliage which remains good looking all summer long. And there are the small flowers, which bloom in spring and are the origin of a famous honey, Tupelo honey. Finally it’s wildlife friendly as the birds would thank you for planting it as they relish the small, bluish fruit which begin to ripen in late summer and autumn and are somewhat prominent. A native of lowland places in the eastern half of North America its native range is from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, which covers an immense variety of soils, temperatures and precipitation. So, it’s no surprise that it’s tolerant of most conditions throughout the temperate world including pollution, seaside conditions  and compacted, urban soils. The most vigorous growth, however, will occur when it is grown on slightly acidic, damp, humusy soil. Young trees require regular watering until established, then they will be more drought-tolerant. It will grow to about 70 feet, or slightly more, with a 30 foot spread, which means it is within a size range for most modern gardens. It casts a light shade that is easy to garden beneath. As it ages, the branches become more horizontal to drooping, which enhances the winter interest. It is fully hardy throughout the UK, and temperate Australia and New Zealand.

As always, this tree may not be found in the large discount nurseries, but more likely found in the select plant nurseries or from mail-order tree nurseries. And there are some notable cultivars such as Autumn Cascade, or Nyssa sylvatica ‘Autumn Cascade’.

Black tupelo


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