Connected Sustainability | Black Gum
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Nyssa sylvatica Marshall

Black Gum


How to Recognize Me

Black Gum is one of the most elegant native trees of the North American lowlands and grows more graceful as the lives of those who fall in love with it move on from generation to generation. It is truly magnificent in age, branching its beautifully twisted limbs from a straight trunk into great horizontal arms that end in a delicate twig structure as if trying to kiss the ground. Its brilliant, consistent scarlet color comes early in Fall and is unmatched. The gum’s dark green elliptic glossy leaves, slightly toothed and up to 5” long, make the whole tree glisten and sparkle in the summer sun. The deeply-checkered bark on old trees resembles alligator hide.

I Am Special to Wildlife

These dioecious trees need a male pollinator to set fruit in the female tree. The stiff, horizontal twigs and limbs are also identifying characteristics. Flowers are a nectar source for bees. The fruit, which ripens in August, tastes sour but is relished by many mammals and more than 30 species of birds. Properly sweetened, it makes tasty preserves.

I Am Special to My Watershed

The Nyssa sylvatica is an excellent ornamental shade tree for lawns or street tree. It shows some susceptibility to leaf spots, canker, rust, leaf miner and scale, but there are no serious insect or disease problems. It grows well in moist woodland gardens or naturalized areas or in low spots subject to periodic flooding or in boggy areas. Although slow-growing, it still needs to be sited in an area which affords plenty of room for future growth, particularly since it is so difficult to transplant due to its long taproot.

I Am Special to People

The strong wood, which is very resistant to splitting, was once used for ox yokes and water pipes. Today it is used for flooring, rollers in glass factories, pistol grips, veneers, railroad ties and furniture. Its fruit, bark, and roots have been used by Native Americans as a bath, as well as in decoctions to induce vomiting, eliminate worms in children and treat eye problems.


The Facts

  • Height: 30’ to 50’
  • Spread: 20’ to 30’
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Soil: moist, acidic, adapts to semidry
  • Bloom Time: May to June Bloom Description: greenish white
  • Flower: small, greenish-white flowers- female in sparse clusters and male in dense heads
  • Fruit: purple oval berries, 1/2” long, edible but sour
  • Tolerate: clay soil, wet soil Suggested Use: shade tree, street tree, rain garden
Noted Trees