Nyssa sylvestre

Nyssa sylvatica Marsh.Cornaceae (dogwood family)

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.

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Flowers are greenish, very small and inconspicuous.

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Fruits are oblong, blue-black, and fleshy with a single stone.

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In Ontario, black-gum is a medium-sized tree, up to 20 m (65') tall, with a rounded or flat-topped crown.

Bark on young trees is grey and flaky.

On older trees, bark becomes dark grey or brown and forms irregular, blocky ridges.

Twigs are reddish-brown covered by a greyish waxy coating.

Buds are up to 7 mm (1/4") long, with a pointed tip.

Leaf scars are crescent-shaped.

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Leaves are 5 - 12 cm (2" - 4 3/4") long, usually wider above the middle, and with a short reddish leaf stalk.

The upper surface is shiny green, the edges smooth and often wavy.

Leaves on summer long shoots have an alternate arrangement, as do the clusters of early spring leaves.

In fall, the leaves are very colourful, turning bright red, orange, and yellow.

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Male and female flowers are borne on separate trees in late spring after the leaves are fully developed. They are small, green and inconspicuous.

Male flowers are borne in clusters on long stalks.

Female flowers are borne in groups of 2 to 4 on long stalks.

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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.

Fruits have thin, oily flesh that conceals a ridged pit.

Fruits ripen in September or October.

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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. .

Commercial use

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.

Wildlife value

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.

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Black-gum IN TORONTO

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.

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WHERE CAN I SEE Black-gum?

Links to maps at Canadian Tree Tours:

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