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Black TupeloNyssa sylvatica

  • Black Tupelo - Nyssa sylvatica
  • Black Tupelo - Nyssa sylvatica
  • Black Tupelo - Nyssa sylvatica
  • Black Tupelo - Nyssa sylvatica

Called “one of the best and most consistent native trees for fall color” by tree expert Michael Dirr, the black tupelo is a terrific landscaping choice. Displaying various hues of yellow, orange, bright red and purple—often on the same branch—its foliage is a stand-out of the autumn season. Even the distinctive bark, which resembles alligator hide, adds visual and textural interest.

And while its blooms may not seem noteworthy, bees will be very appreciative of the presence of this tree, as it serves as an important late-spring food source.


Hardiness Zones

The black tupelo can be expected to grow in Hardiness Zones 4–9. View Map

Tree Type

This is a shade tree, featuring a spreading canopy capable of blocking sunlight.

Mature Size

The black tupelo grows to a height of 30–50' and a spread of 20–30' at maturity.

Growth Speed Slow to Medium Growth Rate

This tree grows at a slow to medium rate, with height increases of anywhere from less than 12" to 24" per year.

Sun Preference

Full sun and partial shade are best for this tree, meaning it prefers a minimum of 4 hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day.

Soil Preference

The black tupelo grows well in in acidic, loamy, moist, rich, sandy, silty loam and well-drained soils.

Attributes

This tree:
  • Provides stunning fall color, bringing many shade of yellow, orange, bright red, purple and scarlet.
  • Develops bark that furrows with age, resembling alligator hide on old trunks.
  • Produces interesting greenish-white flowers that resemble a petal-less spirea.
  • Features alternate, simple leaves 3–6" in length with an ovate, obovate or elliptical shape that are extremely glossy and dark green in the summer.
  • Yields small, bluish-black fruit that ripens in late September and early October, eaten by many species of birds and mammals.
  • Grows in an oval shape.

Wildlife Value

The fruit of the black tupelo attracts many birds and wildlife. It also provides nutrition for bees in early to late spring.

History/Lore

A tree of many monikers, the black tupelo is also known in various areas as a gum tree, sour gum, bowl gum, yellow gum or tupelo gum. Still others call it beetlebung, stinkwood, wild peartree or pepperidge.

When combined with the several other tupelo species, these trees have the distinction of being favorites with honey producers. The resulting honey is light and mild-tasting, fetching a high price, especially in Florida where it is a million dollar business annually.