The Black Gum tree is a beautiful, stately, slow to medium growing tree, typically with a straight trunk and rounded crown, although it has a more pyramidal shape in youth. Starting in early autumn (often in August), the Black Gum tree begins a stunning “knock your socks off” fall color show. The Technicolor colors morph from shiny green to yellow, orange and red or purple in just a matter of weeks. All these colors can be present on the tree at one time and are the first indicators of what we reluctantly suspected all along-that winter is on the way. This North American native tree is considered one of the most beautiful and reliably consistent native trees for fall color. The Black Gum tree doesn’t stall out every other year at the dull yellow-green stage. It may not be as showy in the spring and summer, but it does attract many wildlife fans, such as butterflies, that love the nectar produced by the tree’s flowers. In addition, birds relish the nutritious, small, sour, berry-like fruit found on the tree.
While the Black Gum tree has spectacular foliage displays, there is another significantly attractive feature, which is largely hidden when the tree is in leaf. This feature is revealed during the winter months, when the tree is bare. The interior of the Black Gum tree is strikingly picturesque. There is a central axis on the tree, often seen on evergreens but seldom on broadleaved trees. From this tapering shaft, the slender branches spread to level platforms that beautifully twist and subdivide into wiry angular branchlets and ending in a dense, flat twig system. The Black Gum tree trunk bark matures from its’ juvenile reddish-brown color into a mature medium-gray with a broken or angular bark texture that resembles an alligator hide.
The Black Gum tree possesses a large number of interesting characteristics. The tree grows 30 to 50 feet tall and has a spread of 20 to 30 feet wide. The Black Gum tree is one of the very few trees that will tolerate poor soil drainage. It can actually grow in standing water, although it is also found in the wild on dry mountain sides in the Southeast United States. The Black Gum tree is adaptable to a variety of soil types and displays a moderate tolerance to salt and alkali soils. It is hardy in USDA Zones 4 through 9. The Black Gum tree is usually dioecious, meaning there are female and male trees. If you want your Black Gum tree to produce fruit, a male and female tree are needed to insure pollination. Due to its’ long taproot system, the Black Gum tree has a reputation for being difficult to transplant, but this shouldn’t be a problem when planting a young nursery-grown tree. Be certain to plant it in the right place initially, allowing room for the tree to grow to its’ mature size and future transplant shock is avoided. The Black Gum tree exhibits an unusually high resistance to serious insect and disease problems. Leaf Miners and Scale insects, along with occasional Branch Cankers and Leaf Spots can be minor problems, but their severity is usually related to prolonged moisture stress. Typically, a healthy tree is a happy tree.
The Black Gum tree has many beautiful and useful attributes. These characteristics are certainly applicable to urban and suburban landscapes. These wonderful attributes make it all the more puzzling why the Black Gum tree is not more widely known and grown. The Black Gum tree is available at some nurseries, but one needs to search for it. When searching for Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica), provide the vendor with the correct Latin name. There are related species and even different species that share similar common names with the Black Gum tree. This tree deserves addition to and a favored position in our “Urban Diversified Tree Species Planting List”. I highly recommend its’ inclusion.Harold Hoover Kramer Tree Specialists Board Certified Master Arborist IL-1478B
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