Blackgum

Nyssa sylvatica
Family: Cornaceae

Natural Historyblackgum branch
Leaves and fruit of blackgum
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

Blackgums can reach up to 80 feet tall on moist sites, but are often shorter in the mountains. It is shade tolerant and typically grows in the understory rather than as a dominant tree.  Blackgum is generally found with other hardwood species such as black cherry, dogwood, eastern hophornbeam, and yaupon. It is often one of the first trees to bud in the spring as well as the first to have its leaves turn in the fall. This tree is also sometimes called "black tupelo."

Habitat & Range

The blackgum grows on a variety of sites with moist, rich soils near swamps in mixed, upland hardwood forests and on lower mountain slopes. It is not found in deep swamps or in lands subject to periodic inundation with water. Blackgum occurs from southern Maine to southeastern Wisconsin near Lake Michigan, south to central and western Florida in the east, and to eastern Texas in the west.

Wildlife Use

Many wildlife species including black bear, wild turkey, and white-tailed deer eat the twigs and foliage or fruit of the blackgum. Birds rely on the fruit as a food source and find cavities for nesting sites in the blackgum tree.

Human Use

The wood of this tree is commonly used as plywood and commercial veneers, boxboards, crossties, paper pulp, woodenware and handles.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: The blackgum is a moderately large tree, sometimes more than 100 feet in height, 3-4 feet in diameter. It has a somewhat tapering bole, and a narrow, oblong crown. The root system is spreading and commonly produces vigorous sprouts.
Leaves: Leaves are simple, alternate, and deciduous. The leaves are 2-5 inches long, 1-3 inches wide, oval-shaped, and taper into an acute apex. Leaf bases are wedge-shaped or rounded. Leaf margins are entire or sometimes with a few coarse, scattered teeth. Leaf surfaces are dark green and lustrous above, paler with silky hairs below. Leaf petioles are 1 inch long and are remotely winged.
Twigs: The twigs are moderately stout and reddish-brown. The pith is white and diaphragmed.
Bark: The bark is gray to light brown and is blocky, due to the shallow, irregular furrows, which resembles alligator skin.
Flowers: Blackgum is primarily dioecious which means that there are male trees and female trees; however, sometimes both flower parts can occur on the same tree. The flowers are not showy, light green in color, in clusters hanging from slender stalks, appearing with the leaves.
Fruit: The fruit is an ovoid, dark blue drupe about 1/2 inch long. The fleshy part of the fruit is rather bitter. The pits have indistinct longitudinal ridges or ribs.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:

 

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