Black Gum
Nyssa sylvatica Marsh.

Black Gum: Full Size

Also known as Black Tupelo, Sour Gum, or Pepperidge.

Mature Size: Commonly 40 to 60 feet in height and 1 to 2 feet in diameter, but can reach 100 feet in height and 4 feet in diameter.

Form: Medium tree with slender limbs often growing at right angles to the trunk.

Habitat: Variety of sites, from creek bottoms to upland slopes.

Leaves

Alternate, simple, 2 to 5 inches long, oval with a pointed tip, smooth-edged, occasionally with several coarse teeth near tip; turning scarlet in fall.

Flowers

Males and females usually on separate trees; light green, not showy, in clusters hanging from slender stalks, appearing with the leaves.

Fruit

Round, dark blue, ½ inch across, berry-like, thin-fleshed, clustered on stalks up to 1½ inches long, each containing a single ridged seed.

Bark

On younger trees, gray and furrowed between flat ridges; later becoming dense, hard and nearly black, developing squared blocks resembling alligator hide.

Twigs

Moderately thick, red-brown to gray, pith inside divided by thin walls; 1 to 2 inch curved spur shoots often present; buds egg-shaped, pointed, green and light brown, darkening to brown in winter.

Values and Uses

The wood is very tough, cross-grained, hard to work, and warps easily. It can be used for containers, crossties, rough flooring and pulpwood. Sections of trunk were used in colonial days as "bee gums," or places for bees to make their hives. Many species of birds and wildlife eat the fruit, and bees use the nectar to make honey. Black gum heartwood often rots, creating dens for wildlife, including black bears. The fall foliage makes black gum an attractive landscape tree.

Did You Know?

A variety of black gum, the swamp tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica var. biflora) often grows in year-round swamps. It has narrower leaves and its seed is more deeply ridged.