Tupelo, Nyssa aquatica, is a tree of legend among beekeepers. This is the famous Tupelo Honey tree. Tupelo is a tree of the swamps and lowlands of the south. It grows naturally from the gulf coast north to Illinois and Virginia. The trunk of these trees have the distinctive shape of swamp dwelling trees like the Bald Cypress, a broad base rapidly tapering to a narrower trunk.
The broad base give these trees stability and helps them retain oxygen for the underwater root system.
Tupelo is adapted to a periodically flooded environment. While they can survive many months or years with their roots under water, they also need a dry season for the seed to germinate and young seedlings to reach a height above the normal water level.
While these trees can live in swampy areas, swamps are not necessary for them to thrive. Tupelo Trees and Cypress Trees do not compete well with other trees. They are shade intolerant so, they have adapted to live whereother trees don’t, swamps.
The reason we are able to harvest pure Tupelo Honey is these trees grow in vast nearly pure stands in the lowlands and river bottoms of the deep south. The trees bloom at a time of year when little else is blooming and the vast size of these Tupelo Brakes keep the bees from foraging beyond the edge of the swamp.
Tupelo has two cousins, the Ogeechee Tupelo which also lives in swampy areas along the Atlantic Coast and the Black Gum or Upland Tupelo. If Black Gum grew in pure stands, we would have Tupelo honey from it too.
The wood of the Tupelo Tree is light and smooth grained but prone to twisting and bowing. It is used to carve duck decoys.
These trees grow to heights of 60′ to 80′ and are hardy in zones 6 to 9. This is a great tree for wet places. Mix it with Buttonbush and you get two good nectar seasons from the same plot.