50 Natives: Florida: Nyssa sylvatica – Black Gum

It is the little known tree that captures our attention every fall.  The Nyssa sylvatica, (also known as the black tupelo, black gum, or pepperidge), is largely unknown because it’s leaves do not have a dramatically obvious shape and it is native to lowland areas that are not often hiked.   It’s autumn colors however, are it’s glory, and in the fall, the glossy leaves produce some of the brightest and most reliable fall colors the season can offer.

black tupelo black gum nyssa sylvatica

The black tupelo forms a fairly formal pyramidal to rounded pyramidal crown with a dominant central leader and lower branches that frequently droop to the ground. Its lateral branches remain thin in diameter and form a pattern like spokes on a wheel when observed from below.

I am looking for a tree to plant in the center of my own patio this summer, something that isn’t too messy, has some great branching structure, lots of wow factor and will help me create an intimate enviroement.   This  is one to consider for sure and I am adding it to my short list.  If you have other suggestions (for zone 5), I would love to hear them!

black tupelo nyssa sylvatica black gum tree

1. Nyssa sylvatica fruit.JPG, 2. Rain shower on black gum, 3. 2007-11-01 006, 4. Black Gum Tree, Green Hill Cemetery, 5. Black Gum Bark, Green Hill Cemetery, Greensboro, 6. Nyssa Sylvatica (Tulepo tree)

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rochelle greayer

Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.
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  1. Joseph Tychonievich on January 19, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    I love this tree! There are tons of them in the woods around the house where I grew up, and the fall color is spectacular. They are also great climbing trees for kids…. A couple comments though: Sometimes they can send up a lot of suckers from the roots. But I’ve seen other individuals which don’t at all — not sure what the difference is. Also, make sure you get a locally adapted individual. The native range stretches from Maine to Florida, and individuals from the southern part of that range struggle to grow in the north. I’ve seen some wretched looking black gum here in Michigan that came from a nursery in the south.

  2. rochelle on January 19, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    good advice! thanks Joseph.

  3. AK on January 19, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    I dearly love black gum, although if I were going to use on in a patio, I think I’d get the biggest one I could find because I’ve heard they’re slow-growing. Take that with a grain of salt, because I’ve never grown one personally! There are some great ones at Arnold Arboretum.

    The other tree that popped into my head based on your thoughts was Cercidiphyllum, but are they messy? I don’t think so, but I’m not positive. I love Heptacodium too, if it’s a smaller tree you’re after. Let us know what you decide!

  4. Louise on January 21, 2010 at 10:28 am

    One of my faves, too- spectacular color, doesnt mind wet feet so its great for those tough spots.
    A fast growing shade tree , and ubiquitous to the Mass forest is red (swamp) maple
    (Acer rubrum). They are one of the first to leaf out in spring, great fall color, quick growing, sturdy branch structure, durable wood, readily available in good size (Select Horticulture)..AND they can be tapped for syrup making, as can all maples- its a great feature!
    Get it in early and you wont regret it. Spring’s coming!

  5. Laurrie on May 18, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Black gum is one of my favorites too and I did a post on it:
    I have found it to be very slow growing, but oh so beautiful.

    Another tree to consider for your patio is Sourwood, Oxydendrum — I did a post on that too. My favorite specimen tree by far.

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