Crooked Run Valley
blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica)
Nyssa sylvatica Marsh. var. caroliniana (Poir.) Fernald
Nyssa sylvatica Marsh. var. dilatata Fernald
Nyssa sylvatica Marsh. var. typica Fernald
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for blackgum is
Nyssa sylvatica. Blackgum is divided into two commonly recognized
varieties, typical blackgum (var. sylvatica) and swamp tupelo (var.
biflora). They are usually identifiable by their differences in habitats:
blackgum on light-textured soils of uplands and stream bottoms, swamp
tupelo on heavy organic or clay soils of wet bottom lands. They do
intermingle in some Coastal Plain areas and in those cases are hard to
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Blackgum is a large,
slow to medium-growing tree that can grow to 40 feet tall and 30 feet
wide under urban condition, but double that in the wild. It has an upright
pyramidal growth habit in youth, becoming upright oval, upright hori-
zontal, or spreading with age (often quite unpredictable in the growth
habit of an individual tree). Blackgum bark is brown to dark gray, with
prominent ridges broken into rectangular blocks by horizontal fissures,
somewhat ornamental and eventually becoming platy with age. Twigs
are reddish brown when young becoming a smooth light gray by the
second season. Branches become densely twiggy with age and have num-
erous spur shoots. Leaves are alternate, simple, pinnately veined, obovate
to elliptic with an entire margin, and lustrous dark green in summer and
slightly paler below, 3 to 5 inches long, occasionally shallow lobes (or coarse
teeth) near tip. Fall colors are a mixture of scarlet, purple, orange, yellow,
and green hues of shining foliage. 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 ornament-
ally insignficant. Blackgum has bluish-black small oblong fruits, maturing in
September and October, often profusely borne when present, and readily
eaten by birds and squirrels. Blackgum has a strong taproot.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Blackgum naturally propagates itself pri-
marily by seeds; stem cuttings from male trees are sometimes grafted onto
seedling understock for commercial usage. Smaller black tupelo stumps
sprout readily and larger stumps sprout occasionally. Root suckering can
occur in profusion around some trees. Layering has been used to produce
black tupelo stock.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Blackgum is found on a wide variety of sites
from the creek bottoms of the southern coastal plains to altitudes of 910 m
(3,000 ft) in North Carolina. The variety grows best on well-drained, light-
textured soils on the low ridges of second bottoms and on the high flats of
silty alluvium. In the uplands it grows best on the loams and clay loams of
lower slopes and coves. When found on drier upper slopes and ridges, it is
seldom of log size or quality. Alkaline pH soils are generally avoided, as they
cause slow growth, foliage chlorosis, and eventual decline or demise of the
tree. Backgum prefers full sun to partial sun (partial shade tolerant in
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Blackgum is usually found with a mixture of
other species. It is classed as tolerant of shade and rarely attains overstory
dominance but is usually grows in the intermediate crown class on most
sites. Intermediate black tupelo stems respond favorably to release from
overtopping vegetation. Seedlings grow slowly under a fully stocked stand.
When the canopy is removed, about 25 percent or more can be expected
to respond with relatively rapid height growth. At the time of disturbance
large numbers of new seedlings can become established.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Blackgum flowers from April through
June. The fruit of blackgum ripens in September and October and drops
from September through November.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Blackgum grows in the uplands and in
alluvial stream bottoms from southwestern Maine to New York, to
extreme southern Ontario, central Michigan, Illinois, and central Miss-
ouri, and south to eastern Oklahoma, eastern Texas, and southern
Florida. It is local in central and southern Mexico. Optimum develop-
ment is made on lower slopes and terraces in the Southeastern United
SKY MEADOWS DISRIBUTION:
Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: Blackgum is not
predominant in any major forest type; however, it is a component of 35
forest cover types. In New England it is associated with Black Ash-Amer-
ican Elm-Red Maple. In the central and southern forest regions, it is found
in many oak and pine types forests. On bogs or peaty soils, associated
plants inlcude Acer rubrum, Aronia prunifolia, Bartonia virginica,
Gaultheria procumbens, Ilex verticillata, Maianthemum canadese
interius, Osmunda cinnamomea, Osmunda regalis spectabilis, Populus
tremuloides, Quercus palustris, Rubus hispidus, Smilax rotundifolia,
Vaccinium pallidum. On wet flooded flats, associated plants include Acer
saccaharum, Amelanchier arborea, Cornus florida, Fagus grandifolia,
Fraxinus americana, Hamamelis virginiana, Onoclea sensibilis, Parthe-
nocissus quinquefolia, Polygonatum pubescens, and Quercus rubra.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Because of its wide range, frequency of
occurrence, and the palatability of its fruit and sprouts, blackgum is an
important wildlife species. The fruit, high in crude fat, fiber, phosphorous,
and calcium, are eaten by many birds and animals. Young sprouts are
relished by white-tailed deer but lose palatability with age. Because it is
a prolific producer of cavities, blackgum is usually ranked as one of the
more dependable den tree species. Black tupelo is a good honey tree.
Blackgum is an excellent ornamental shade tree for lawns or street tree.
Also grows well in moist woodland gardens or naturalized areas or in low
spots subject to periodic flooding or in boggy areas.
Blackgum wood is used mainly for lumber, veneer, paper pulp, and to
some extent for railroad ties. The veneer is used mainly for boxes, crates,
baskets, furniture, and interior woodwork. Because of its toughness, black-
gum is also used for flooring, rollers in glass factories, blocks, gunstocks,
and pistol grips.