Black / Sour Gum Tree – Nyssa sylvatica

Black / Sour Gum Tree – Nyssa sylvatica
Family Nyssaceae – Tupelo Family; sometimes included in Cornaceae. Also called Black Tupelo,
Black Gum, Pepperidge, Tupelo, Tupelo-gum

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Black / Sour Gum foliage
Nyssa sylvatica is divided into two commonly recognized varieties, typical black tupelo (var. sylvatica) and swamp tupelo (var. biflora). They are usually identifiable by their differences in habitats: black tupelo on light-textured soils of uplands and stream bottoms, swamp tupelo on heavy organic or clay soils of wet bottom lands. They do intermingle in some Coastal Plain areas and in those cases are hard to differentiate. These trees have moderate growth rate and longevity and are an excellent food source for wildlife, fine honey trees, and handsome ornamentals.
Black Gum bark
Black Gum is a medium to large-sized native tree, frequently 60 to 80 ft tall and 3 to 4 ft in diameter. It typically has dense foliage with a conical crown on straight trunk. The simple, alternate leaves are leathery, and densely clustered at the branchlets. The small greenish white flowers are borne singly or in clusters. The bark is reddish brown and broken into deep irregular ridges and diamond-shaped plates. Sour gum grows from Maine west to New York, extreme southern Ontario, central Michigan, Illinois, central Missouri, and south to central Florida.
Black Gum
This Black Gum was started from seed 24 years ago.

Wildlife: Black bears, foxes, wood ducks, wild turkeys, robins, woodpeckers, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, thrushes, flickers, and starlings frequently eat the fruit, while white-tailed deer and beavers browse the twigs, foliage, and young sprouts. Additionally, provides cavity and nesting sites for a variety of birds and mammals and a good honey tree.

Blackgum is usually found with a mix of other species including black cherry (Prunus serotina), dogwood (Cornus florida), hickory (Carya spp.), oak (Quercus spp.) eastern hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), and yaupon, it is shade tolerant and seldom grows as dominant tree but it usually grows in the intermediate crown class on most sites. It responds favorably to release from overtopping vegetation. Seedlings grow slowly under a fully stocked stand. At the time of disturbance large numbers of new seedlings can become established.

Smaller blackgum stumps sprout readily and larger stumps sprout and develop root suckers. Layering can be used to produce stocks.

Seed production is highly variable, disseminated primarily by gravity and birds, others generally fall to the ground and remain dormant in the litter or are carried by water. Seed overwinters on cool, damp soil and germinates the following spring. It requires nearly full sunlight for optimum early growth. The plant tolerates competition and can exist on unfavorable sites. Pre-chilled seeds must be sown in spring. Seeds are drilled at the rate of 15 per ft of row and covered with 1½ – 1 inch of soil. A mulch of sawdust is often used. Beds must be kept moist.

It sprouts from the stump following disturbance. Smaller sour gum stumps sprout readily while larger stumps sprout occasionally. Sprouts arise from suppressed buds and are concentrated near the top of the stump. Stump sprouts can produce seeds at 2 years of age.

black gum tree
Tupelo Morton Arboretum accession 201-40-4*4 is 70 years old

Since deer love to eat seedlings and sprouts, blackgum can only be protected by controlling deer populations. It often competes with loblolly and shortleaf pine for water and light, reducing its growth and development. Basal tree injections with herbicide is effective control method for crown kill. Intermediate trees respond favorably to release from overhead vegetation; seedlings respond to reduction in canopy cover with relatively rapid height growth.

Pests and Potential Problems
Tupelo leaf miner (Antispila nyssaefolia) and forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria) attack blackgum causing growth loss and occasional mortality. —USDA NRCS Fact Sheet

1. Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson, USDA Forest Service Fact Sheet ST-470, Sour Gum Tree
2. USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Germplasm Resources Information Network
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