Forest 43 - Black Tupelo

Nyssa sylvatica 

Flowers of Nyssa sylvatica (2). Photo not from the Arboretum Flowers of Nyssa sylvatica

Other common names

Black gum, Pepperidge.

Origin of the species name

Nyssa means water nymph, a reference to the habitat of some of the species; sylvatica is from Latin meaning of the forest habitat.



Date planted

September 2008


Black tupelos have an average lifespan of 250 years.

Young Nyssa sylvatica in Forest 43

General description 

This is a medium-sized deciduous tree with grey-brown furrowed bark and maturing to have a flat-topped crown. The leaves are shiny green with often wavy margins. They turn purple in autumn, eventually becoming an intense bright scarlet. The fruit is a black-blue, ovoid stone fruit. Height 20m Spread 15m

Natural distribution and habitat  

The species is native to eastern North America, from New England and southern Ontario, south to central Florida and eastern Texas where it is found in a variety of habitats throughout its wide range, growing from the creek bottoms of coastal plains, up to drier upper slopes and ridges at altitudes of about 900 metres.

Conservation status

Although it is not internationally classified as threatened, it is registered as a species of concern in southern Canada and in Wisconsin. In Canada this is because of its rarity, its uncertain viable seed source and the resulting decrease in its range and frequency. This is being complicated by the high demand for the land on which it naturally occurs.


The wood is hard, cross-grained, and difficult to split, especially after drying. Because of this it was used to make the hubs of heavy carriage wheels as well as pallets and rough flooring. It was also sometimes called 'pioneer's toothbrush'. When a small, brittle twig is broken off sharply, it has a bundle of woody fibres on the end that were once used to clean teeth. It was also called 'bee-gum' because hollow trees were used as beehives.

Further reading

Palmer, C (2008) Trees and Forests of North America. Abrams.