Origin: Eastern North America (native in Ontario)
In Ontario, black-gum is a medium-sized tree with a rounded or flat-topped crown.Read more about Tree, Bark, Twigs
Leaves are oval with pointed tips, smooth edges, and a short reddish leaf stalk.Read more about Leaves
Flowers are greenish, very small and inconspicuous.Read more about Flowers
Fruits are oblong, blue-black, and fleshy with a single stone.Read more about Fruit
In Ontario, black-gum is a medium-sized tree, up to 20 m (65') tall, with a rounded or flat-topped crown.
Leaves are 5 - 12 cm (2" - 4 3/4") long, usually wider above the middle, and with a short reddish leaf stalk.
Leaves on summer long shoots have an alternate arrangement, as do the clusters of early spring leaves.
Fruit is oblong, blue-black, plum-like, 1 - 3 cm (1/2" - 1 1/4") long, clustered in groups of 1 to 4 on long stalks.
Black-gum is the only species of the genus Nyssa that is native to Canada.
Derivation of names
The reasons behind both the scientific and common names for this species are somewhat obscure. Although called black-gum, it produces no gum. The alternative name is black tupelo; tupelo is derived from the indigenous Creek words eto opelwu, which mean swamp tree because this tree often grows in wet and swampy sites. The genus name Nyssa may also allude to the tree's natural wet habitat. It is named for Mount Nyssa, in Asia Minor, which in Greek mythology is where Zeus sent his son Dionysus to be raised by the water nymphs who lived there. The species name, sylvatica, means of the trees, from the Latin sylva meaning forest. .
In the past, black-gum has been used to make hatters' blocks and pistol grips. Today, it may be used in the production of furniture, crates, and boxes.
Black-gum's oily fruits are a source of food for many species of wildlife, including foxes, robins, ducks, wild turkeys, and European starlings. However, the fruits are too sour for human consumption. White-tailed deer and beavers eat the twigs and leaves. The flowers attract bees and other insects. When large enough, cavities may develop in its trunk that are used by wildlife for shelter.
Black gum's place in Toronto's urban forest
Black gum is a common tree in the southern deciduous forest but in southern Ontario is at the northern limits of its range and so is rare in the wild at this latitude. Within the city, black gum is occasionally planted in parks and increasingly on city streets.
Landscape value and potential for home planting
Black gum has proven to be a hardy cultivated tree, providing a colourful display in the fall.
It requires moist, well-drained, acidic soils. It grows best in sheltered, sunny sites but can withstand partial shade. It is fairly resistant to the effects of pollution, salt, and heat making it a good urban tree.
Black-gum flowers attract bees and other insects, and the fruits attract birds.
Pests and diseases: Black-gum is not especially vulnerable to any insect pest or disease. It may be affected by forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria), which make nests on the branches.
This tree is available for plantinthrough the City of Toronto's street tree program.
Links to maps at Canadian Tree Tours: