Black Gum, Nyssa sylvatica is one of our most beautiful native trees. Glossy green leaves of spring and summer turn to a striking burgundy red with the first cool nights of late summer and early fall. This adaptable tree is found in almost all environments from very wet to very dry.
Black Gum is a cousin to the Swamp Tupelo, Nyssa aquatica, that produces the famed Tupelo Honey. It has similar flowers and is worked equally by honeybees. The reason we don’t see Black Gum honey as a distinct varietal is that these trees don’t tend to grow in solid stands like the Swamp Tupelo. Gum trees grow in mixed stands with other hardwood trees and are considered a minor species in the eastern hardwood forests.
The Tupelo name is an adaptation of the Indian name. Across the country, Black Gum is known as Black Tupelo, Tupelo, Sour Gum and Bee Gum. It is a full sized tree reaching 60 to 70 feet with age and maturity. It sometimes has a wonderful weeping form where the branches droop as they grow longer and get heavier with age.
The trees are either male or female. The males produce pollen and the females produce nectar. Honeybees are attracted to both and the trees literally hum with bees when they bloom.