Nyssa sylvatica - Black Tupelo
Family: Cornaceae

Hear the scientific name

Nyssa sylvatica is a shade tree with shining dark green summer foliage, excellent autumn color, abundant fruits (on appropriate flowering forms) that attract wildlife, and a picturesque growth habit with blocky ornamental bark at maturity. Black Tupelo is a native shade tree that is underutilized in landscapes, and is primarily known for its spectacular autumn colors.

Alternate common name: Black Gum

F   E   A   T   U   R   E   S
  form2 form Form

-large shade tree

-maturing at 40' tall x 30' wide under urban conditions, but double that in the wild

-upright pyramidal growth habit in youth, becoming upright oval, upright horizontal, or spreading with age (often quite unpre-dictable in the growth habit of an individual tree)

-slow growth rate under urban conditions, but medium growth rate in native sites

foliage2 foliage Foliage

-alternate, obovate to elliptic, and lustrous dark green in summer

-excellent autumn color, a mixture of scarlet, purple, orange, yellow, and green hues of shining foliage on the tree in autumn, slowly abscising


-polygamo-dioecious (most trees have either staminate flowers [male, non-fruiting trees] or pistillate flowers [female, heavy fruiting trees], but some trees have either staminate and perfect flowers [limited-fruiting trees] or pistillate and perfect flowers [heavy fruiting trees])

-whatever the floral state of the tree, the flowers are small, greenish-white, and ornamentally insignficant, appearing in May with the foliage


-bluish-black small oblong fruits, maturing in Sept. and Oct., often profusely borne when present, and readily eaten by birds and squirrels

-the abscised fleshy fruits (or directly correlated bird droppings under the trees) can be a liability


-reddish brown young twigs become a smooth light gray by the second season

-branches become densely twiggy with age and have numerous spur shoots

trunk Trunk

-brown to dark gray, with prominent ridges broken into rectangular blocks by horizontal fissures, somewhat ornamental and eventually becoming platy with age

C   U   L   T   U   R   E


-full sun to partial sun (partial shade tolerant in youth)

-performs best in evenly moist, deep, acidic soils, but is somewhat adaptable to either wet or dry soils though it cannot be considered urban tolerant

-propagated primarily by seeds, but stem cuttings from male trees are sometimes grafted onto seedling understock

-Tupelo Family, with occasional leaf spot being the most common cosmetic disease; in general, no disease or pest problems of significance

-moderately available in B&B or container form

-alkaline pH soils should be avoided, as they cause slow growth, foliage chlorosis, and eventual decline or demise of the tree

-the deep taproot system makes B&B transplanting somewhat risky except on very young trees, and therefore container-grown saplings are becoming more popular

distribution map


-zones 3 to 9


-native to the Eastern U.S.

U   S   A   G   E


-consistently spectacular autumn color

-fruits attract wildlife (for those trees that have fruits)

-wet site or dry site tolerant

-blocky ornamental mature bark

-some trees have picturesque horizontal branching and a flat-topped crown with age


-fruit litter and associated bird droppings (for those trees that have fruits)

-slow growth rate in most urban situations

-irregular growth habit for some individual trees


-specimen, focal point, or shade tree


-medium-fine texture in foliage and when bare

-average to thick density in foliage and when bare

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Varieties and Cultivars - Search OSU PlantFacts for additional plants in this species


-shade trees for excellent autumn color (Acer rubrum, Acer saccharum, Liquidambar styraciflua, Quercus coccinea, etc.)

-trees with abundant fruits that attract wildlife (Amelanchier, Carya, Crataegus, Fagus, Malus, Morus, Quercus, etc.)

-trees with a flat-topped growth habit at maturity (Crataegus crusgalli, Gleditsia triacanthos [native thorny form], etc.)


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