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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Anderson

Blackgum Tops the Charts for Fall Foliage, Tasty Honey and Pollinator Values

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

An all-around exceptional tree for the home, Blackgum/Tupelo increasingly is turning up along streets and sidewalks.

It has brilliant fall foliage, and its leaves are among the first to turn in late summer. Bees love, and make a tasty honey, after slurping nectar from its inconspicuous spring flowers.

Van Morrison even wrote a song, Tupelo Honey, although the song refers primarily to a cousin, Nyssa ogeche, native to Florida and Georgia.

She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey

She’s an angel of the first degree

She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey

Just like honey, baby, from the bee

Nyssa sylvatica's fruits are relished by birds
Fruits on Nyssa sylvatica not yet ripe

Our Tupelo, Nyssa sylvatica, is native from Maine to Florida. In addition to bees, it also attracts beetles and wasps and, unlike many hardwoods that depend on wind for pollination, it ranks high on the charts for insect pollination. Also a larval host to dozens of moth species, Blackgum is the sole host of the striking Hebrew Moth.

In late fall the tree’s fruits ripen to blue-black as its leaves turn shades of scarlet, orange and crimson. These edible fruits are a bit sour, hence the alternative name of Sour Gum. But birds, especially Robins, relish these fruits, and in turn the tree relies on the birds to spread its seeds about. Female trees need a male for fruit.

Nyssa sylvatica grows naturally along ponds and streams
Blackgum loves water but adapts to drier sites.

This tree grows naturally in low woods and swamps; in fact, Tupelo can be traced to a Native American word meaning swamp tree.

Ever flexible, Tupelo also can grow in standing water, and it adapts to drier sites in the landscape. It has a lovely oval form and branches that extend horizontally from a strong central leader.

Consider Tupelo, especially if you have a low area in your landscape that perhaps floods on occasion, and if you are looking for a medium-sized tree and strikingly gorgeous fall foliage.

Be sure to place Tupelo in a good location as it does not like to be transplanted. 🙂

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