Tree Spotlight: Blackgum

This month’s tree spotlight is blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), a tree native to the eastern part of the United states. It grows well in moist, well-drained soils along stream banks, and in swampy woods. It can grow 40-60 feet in height and its crown spread is generally half of the height of the tree.

Blackgum has a medium tolerance to salt and grows well in conditions difficult for other trees, such as in poorly drained soils and in areas with high levels of air pollution. White-tail deer browse on seedlings and new sprouts but do not find older trees palatable. Blackgum fruit is consumed by birds and a variety of mammals in the fall. The heartwood of blackgum often rots away, creating a hollow that provides dens for birds and mammals. Blackgum wood has several uses including veneer, paper pulp, flooring, blocks, gunstocks, pistol grips, and tool handles.

The Big Tree Program is a national initiative that tracks and records the biggest trees of each species across the country. The Vermont Big Tree Program is based on the national program with a scoring system composed of 3 measurements: height, crown width, and circumference at breast height. The current champion blackgum is in Ferrisburgh, Vermont. When it was last measured in 2003, its height was 66 feet, its average crown spread was 40 feet, and its circumference at breast height was 7 feet 6 inches, with a diameter of 2 feet 4 inches.


Common names: black tupelo, sourgum, pepperidge

Height: 40 – 60 feet 

Hardiness Zone: 3 – 9

Leaf: alternately arranged on branches, oval shape, 3-5 inches long, with occasional shallow lobes or teeth, dark green upper with pale under; yellow, orange, red to purple fall color

Flowers: species is polygamodioecious meaning some trees have mostly male flowers and some have mostly female flowers; the flowers are not showy, light green in color and form in clusters hanging from long slender stalks

Fruit: Dark, purple- blue fruit containing a ribbed pit, which ripen in late summer and fall

Twig: Stout, red-brown to gray, has a diaphragmed pith which means the middle section of the twig has partitions in addition to continuous material

Bark: Gray-brown and shallow, irregularly furrowed, as it ages it can be blocky 


Missouri Botanical Garden 

US Forest Service 

US Forest Service Index of Species Information

Virginia Tech

North Carolina State University 

Photograph Sources: 

5509882- T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University,

5454080- Vern Wilkins, Indiana University,

1116138- Charles T. Bryson, USDA Agricultural Research Service,

5424039- Franklin Bonner, USFS (ret.),

Steven J. Baskauf 



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