The Sour Gum Tree (Nyssa Silvatica), also known as the Tupelo or Black Gum is a deciduous tree, found throughout the United States, but most prevalent east of the Mississippi. This long-lived tree can reach a whopping 650 years of age and grow to a height of well over 75 feet and a width of 25’-30.’ Sour Gums prefer well-drained, acidic soils, and full sun to partial shade.
Often found in parks and large gardens as shade and specimen trees, the Sour Gum’s glossy, dark green leaves put on a fantastic show of fall color, with foliage that turns brilliant shades of yellow, orange, red, scarlet and purple, sometimes all on the same branch! The column-like shape of the young Sour Gum tree spreads wider over time and the tree’s bark matures to a medium gray that furrows with age to an alligator-like texture. It has a slow growth rate – about 1-2 feet per year, which contributes to its wood strength.
With its dense wood and twisted, interlocked grain Sour Gum is hard to split for use as a veneer, but perfect for many other uses. In the past, it was often used for machine parts, shuttles in weaving looms, and factory flooring due to its natural resistance to acids.
Sour Gums produce small, greenish-white flowers in the spring, which are a rich source of nectar for bees for honey production. Additionally, the tree has a hollow trunk, which makes it perfect for denning and nesting for wild bees. Beekeepers used to use the trunks as natural beehives in the past.
In the fall, Sour Gums produce blue-black stone fruits that are an important food source for a variety of migrating birds and are a particular favorite of robins. It’s necessary to have both a male and female Sour Gum tree for fruit production.
Some varieties of Sour Gum trees to consider for your landscape:
Zydeco Twist – a variety with twisted branches that provide architectural interest in the winter.
Autumn Cascades – has a graceful weeping form and particularly brilliant fall coloring.
Wildfire – produces beautiful red leaves throughout the growing season.
Main Image Photo Credit: The Spruce