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Home > Resources > North Carolina Trees > Blackgum


(Nyssa sylvatica Marsh)


Blackgum, often called black tupelo, grows throughout the state in many types of soils and conditions of soil moisture. Occasionally in the lowlands, it grows along swamp margins. In the hills and mountains, it grows on dry slopes with oaks and hickories.

The slender limbs grow at right angles to the trunk. Blackgum leaves are alternate, roughly oval with short, blunt points. The leaves are smooth-margined, 2 to 5 inches long and 1/2 to 3 inches wide. In early autumn, the leaves turn bright scarlet, often making the first showy display of fall colors in southeastern forests.

The fruit is round, dark blue, about 1/2 inch in diameter and is clustered on stalks up to 1 1/2 inches long. Thin, bitter-smelling flesh surrounds the,-mail, ribbed seed. The bark on younger trees is furrowed between flat ridges and gradually develops into quadrangular block~ that are dense, hard and nearly black -- much like the bark of persimmon.

Blackgum usually is a medium-sized tree, 30 to 40 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet in diameter. It occasionally reaches 100 feet in height and 4 to 5 feet in diameter. In open stands, the crown often is flat and spreading; in dense stands, it is narrow and conical.

The wood is very tough, cross-grained, hard to work and warps easily. It is used for crate and basket veneers, crossties, rough floors andpulpwood.

A variety of blackgum, the swamp tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica van biflora) is the true swamp species, often growing with cypress in year-round swamps. It is similar to blackgum, but its leaves are narrower and its seed is more deeply ridged.

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