black tupelo

(Nyssa sylvatica)

Conservation Status
black tupelo
Photo by Randy
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5 - Secure


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

FAC - Facultative


FAC - Facultative

  Northcentral & Northeast

FAC - Facultative


Black tupelo is a slow growing, very long lived, deciduous tree rising on a single trunk from a large, deep taproot. In the northern parts of its range mature trees are usually 16 to 66 tall and and 20 to 36 in diameter at breast height. In the south, they are typically up to 98 tall and 39 in diameter. In favorable conditions, large individuals can reach 120 in height and 48 in diameter. It usually occurs in the understory in an intermediate crown position. It grows slowly when under a canopy, faster when the canopy is removed. It is very long lived, with some individuals over 650 years in age.

The trunk is straight. It is sometimes slightly swollen at the base when growing in water but never has buttress roots at the base. It is distinct into the upper part of the crown. The crown is often pyramidal when young, becoming oblong and irregularly rounded, and often flattening out with age. The branches are held more or less at right angles to the trunk. The lower branches are usually crooked and often droop downward.

The bark on young trees is dark gray to brownish-gray and is divided into vertical ridges. On mature trees the bark is thick and brown to gray, with ridges that are broken into oblong or irregular, hexagonal plates. Older bark is thick and deeply ridged, resembling alligator hide. The outer sections of bark are often broken off on one side of the tree due to exposure to freeze and thaw cycles.

The twigs are moderately slender, reddish-brown to gray, and often covered with fine short hairs. There are also dwarf branches, 1 to 2 long, curved, spur shoots. The pith is white and solid but has numerous hard, greenish, cross bars (diaphragmed). The leaf scars have 3 conspicuous bundle scars .

Terminal buds are egg-shaped, pointed, and about ¼ long. They are covered with 5 yellowish-brown to dark reddish-brown scales. Lateral buds are similar but smaller and diverge widely from the twig.

The leaves are deciduous, alternate, unlobed, and somewhat leathery in texture. On young short shoots they are in clusters and appear almost whorled. On the major branches they are often in clusters at the tip. They are on 3 16 to ¾ long leaf stalks (petioles). The petioles are moderately to densely covered, sometimes only on upper or lower side, with spreading, branched, sometimes tangled hairs. The leaf blades are variable in shape but usually widest above the middle, inversely egg-shaped to elliptic, 2¼ to 4¾ long, and 1to 2½ wide. They are broadly angled or tapered at the base and usually short tapered to a short, sharp point at the tip. The tip is sometimes rounded or angled. The upper surface is somewhat shiny and hairless. The lower surface is pale green but is not covered with a waxy bloom (glaucous). It may be either hairless or moderately hairy, especially along the veins. The lateral veins straight or only slightly arched toward the tip. They do not reach the margin. The margins are wavy, untoothed, and sometimes hairy. Rarely, there will be 1 to 3 coarse, broadly triangular teeth above the middle. In autumn the leaves turn various shades of yellow, orange, red, and purple.

Male and female flowers are borne on separate trees from May through June, after the leaves have unfurled but before they are fully grown, but there are usually a few to several flowers with both male and female parts (perfect flowers) on each branch. They appear in the leaf axils, especially on the short shoots. The male (staminate) flowers are in short, dense, unbranched clusters (racemes), or sometimes in umbrella-like, ¼ to 1 in diameter clusters (umbels). They are on greenish-white, hairy, to ¾ long inflorescence stalks (peduncles). The female (pistillate) flowers are solitary or in clusters of mostly 2 to 5 on ¾ to 2 long peduncles.

The flowers are tiny and are not showy. They have 5 sepals, 5 to 10 petals, 8 to 15 stamens, and 1 style. The sepals (calyx) are green, fused at the base into a short tube, then separated into 5 tiny, 1 64 to 1 16 long teeth or a low rim. The petals are green to greenish-yellow or greenish-white, 1 64 to 1 16 long, oblong, and usually rounded at the tip. The stamens have slender, to ¼ long stalks (filaments). The style is stout and bent or bent backward toward the tip. The stigma is unlobed.

The fruiting head (infructescence) is a cluster of 2 to 5 stone fruits (drupes). Each drupe is egg-shaped, 5 16 to ½ long, and glaucous. It is green at first, turning bluish-black with scattered, minute, white spots at maturity. The taste is bitter. The stone has 8 to 12 shallow ridges. The fruit ripens in September and October and drops to the ground from September through November.




16 to 82




There is no record for non-native trees.


Flower Color


Green to greenish-yellow


Similar Species


Moist to moderately moist. Upland and floodplain woodlands, wetlands, edges of swamps and streams. Moderately shade tolerant. Well-drained soil.




May through June


Pests and Diseases

  Tupelo leafminer (Antispila nysaefoliella)  



Distribution Map



2, 3, 29, 30.




Native to eastern and southeastern United States, including Wisconsin. Occasionally cultivated.




Not known to occur outside of cultivation in Minnesota

  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Asteranae  


Cornales (dogwoods, hydrangeas, and allies)  


Nyssaceae (tupelo)  
  Genus Nyssa (tupelo)  

Until recently, the genus Nyssa was included in the dogwood family (Cornaceae) in the subfamily Nyssoideae. In 2016, with the publication of the APG IV system, it was placed in the family Nyssaceae.


Subordinate Taxa






Nyssa sylvatica var. caroliniana

Nyssa sylvatica var. dilatata

Nyssa sylvatica var. sylvatica

Nyssa sylvatica var. typica


Common Names


black gum

black tupelo



sour gum











The group of outer floral leaves (sepals) below the petals, occasionally forming a tube.



A fleshy fruit with usually a single hard, stone-like core, like a cherry or peach; a stone fruit.



On plants: The thread-like stalk of a stamen which supports the anther. On Lepidoptera: One of a pair of long, thin, fleshy extensions extending from the thorax, and sometimes also from the abdomen, of a caterpillar.



Pale green or bluish gray due to a whitish, powdery or waxy film, as on a plum or a grape.



In angiosperms, the stalk of a single flower or a flower cluster; in club mosses, the stalk of a strobilus or a group of strobili.



Referring to a flower that has both male and female reproductive organs.



The stalk of a leaf blade or compound leaf that attaches the leaf blade to the stem.



Referring to a flower that has a female reproductive organ (pistil) but does not have male reproductive organs (stamens).



An unbranched, elongated inflorescence with stalked flowers. The flowers mature from the bottom up.



An outer floral leaf, usually green but sometimes colored, at the base of a flower.



Referring to a flower that has a male reproductive organs (stamens) but does not have a female reproductive organ (pistil).



In plants, the portion of the female part of the flower that is receptive to pollen. In Lepidoptera, an area of specialized scent scales on the forewing of some skippers, hairstreaks, and moths. In Odonata, a thickened, dark or opaque cell near the tip of the wing on the leading edge.



A flat-topped or convex, umbrella-shaped cluster of flowers or buds arising from more or less a single point.

Visitor Photos

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Black tupelo thriving and showing off Autumn color, Freeborn County, MN, October 2017

  black tupelo   black tupelo

Black tupelo foliage, Freeborn County, MN, September 2017

  black tupelo    Photos



  Black Tupelo
Andree Reno Sanborn
  Black Tupelo  

also called sour gum

(Nyssa sylvatica,)




Visitor Videos

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Other Videos
  Trees with Don Leopold - blackgum

Published on Oct 21, 2011

  #PhenologyFriday: Meet the Blackgum

Published on Oct 23, 2015

Stephanie talks about the colorful Nyssa sylvatica in our latest #PhenologyFriday video.

  Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)
Gregg Smith

Published on Feb 10, 2014

Black Gum tree (Nyssa sylvatica) One of Ontario's rarest native trees... Found scattered only in Essex, Kent, Norfolk counties and in the Niagara region...

This one is growing just south of Thamesville, Ontario...

This video is copywrited.... All rights reserved...

  How to ID Nyssa sylvatica
Laura Deeter

Published on Nov 19, 2008

Short video showing the key identifying characteristics for Nyssa sylvatica

  Blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica)

Published on Sep 29, 2011

Dudley Phelps and Blake Hamilton of Mossy Oak Nativ Nurseries explain the wildlife bennifits of this often overlooked tree, the Blackgum. All types of wildlife enjoy the soft mast this tree produces, especially wild turkey and whitetail deer, watch the video and learn more!

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Visitor Sightings

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October 2017

Location: Freeborn County, MN

Black tupelo thriving and showing off Autumn color

black tupelo

September 2017

Location: Freeborn County, MN

Black tupelo foliage

black tupelo






Created: 10/3/2017

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