Sour Gum, Tupelo, Black Gum

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
This deciduous tree is found throughout the United States, mostly east of the Mississippi on the continental US and in southern Ontario, but also with significant populations in Lousiana, Missouri, and Texas. Elevation-wise, it prefers to grow low on highlands of up to 3,000 ft. Further, it is also known to prefer wetlands. It can grow up to a height of 35 meters but tends to stay between 20 and 25 when it is fully grown. It can live to be 650 years old, and during its lifetime will contribute to honey production for bees, an will supply berries that are an important source of food for birds. When it is grown by humans, it is generally for the beauty of its bright red leaves in the fall. Further, its wood is very strong and can be used for a variety of purposes, such as pulleys, bowls, and pallets.
Tom Murray and Alex Reedy
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
3.90 m
4.40 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.15 m

0.15 m

The bark is smooth and reddish brown. As the tree develops, we can expect the bark to become deeply furrowed and scaly. We can already start to see some of the bark becoming scaly if we look at the trunk close enough!
Twigs & branches
The trunk was very thin, so the tree branches were even thinner! The winding nature of the tree led it to have many small branches which had twigs attached to them. The twigs of the tree are reddish-brown, hidden by a greyish skin. The many thin branches make this tree an ideal spot for birds to perch.
This photo is a great example of the leaves on our tree will look like one day! The tree's leaves are ovate shaped, or can possibly be elliptical or ovular, and they are spaced out in an opposite manner. While the trees are green in summer, like most deciduous trees, it will turn a fiery red in autumn. Deer are extremely fond of the leaves on seedlings and saplings, to the point where large populations of them can make the establishment of the tree almost impossible. 
Reproductive Structures
These Wikimedia images show the reproductive structures of the Sour Gum tree. The berries contain seeds by which the seeds propagate. The flowers are very small, in greenish-white in clusters at the top of a long stalk and a rich source of nectar for bees. They are usually dioecious, so a male and female tree must be in proximity for reproductive success.
The fruit is a black-blue, ovoid stone fruit, about 10 mm long with a thin, oily, bitter-to-sour tasting flesh and very popular with small bird species, particularly the American robin. There are from one to three fruits together on a long slender stalk. They are sometimes eaten raw, but humans tend to put them in juice, preservatives, or pies!
  • Winter (02/07/2024)
Natural range of distribution: 
Nyssa sylvatica is found in the United States east of the Mississippi, in Southern Ontario down to Florida. Further, it is found spanning from the east coast to eastern Texas. There are a few isolated populations in northern Mexico as well. Climatically, the tree can grow well in many places, from sea level to 3000 feet high. They prefer to grow on well-drained soils on the bottom of mountains and plains with silty alluvium.
Origin, history, and uses: 
The name of the tree “Tupelo” comes from the Muscogee language, as a combination of the words “ito” (tree) and “opilwa” (swamp). It is also known by the name “beetlebung” on Marthas Vineyard, because it was historically used to make mallets that pound the cork (or “beetle”) into barrels before they were loaded onto ships.
It is largely an ornamental plant, with its leaves changing to a fiery red in the autumn. It is often put in public parks for this reason, and because in the summer its verdant foliage provides ample shade.  Its’ woods is also famed for its durability and density, leading to it having been used for things that require great durabilities, such as wheels and machine parts. Further, its resistance to acid caused it to be used as factory flooring for a long time. It also plays an important role in honey production, as the hollow trunk allows denning and nesting opportunities for wild bees.
Blooming phenology: May through June Fruiting phenology: mid-June through August

Crane, Ethel Eva (2013). The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting. Routledge. p. 305.

Paxton, William C. (2014). “Why Do They Call It a Gum Tree?”. Penn State Extension…

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