Picture by Famartin

Picture by Famartin

 I see its been some months since my last post in this series, so it’s about time I got going and finished the alphabet! The ‘N’ in my garden trees series is Nyssa sylvatica, introduced to the UK 250 years from the U.S. and considered by many to be the finest of that country’s native trees.

Common name: Tupelo, black gum tree, common tupelo tree, cotton gum, pepperidge, sour gum tree

Native areas: Nyssa sylvatica grows in various uplands and in alluvial stream bottoms in eastern north America, as far south as florida and locally in central and southern Mexico Optimum development is made on lower slopes and terraces in the South eastern U.S.

Historical notes: Introduced from America in 1750, Nyssa sylvatica’s genus name (Nyssa) refers to a Greek water nymph; the species epithet sylvatica refers to its woodland habitat. On Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts it is called “beetlebung”, perhaps for its use in making the mallet known as a beetle, used for hammering bungs (stoppers) into barrels.

Features: Nyssa are deciduous trees with ovate leaves colouring brilliantly in autumn; inconspicuous flowers are followed by small, dull purple fruits. N. sylvatica is small (generally 15-25 metres tall), slow-growing and with an elegant, broadly conical habit with a maximum spread of 6-10 metres. Ovate leaves to 15cm in length turn brilliant red and yellow in autumn. It has a trunk diameter of around 50–100 centimetres. These trees typically have a straight trunk with the branches extending outward at right angles. The bark is dark grey and flaky when young, but it becomes furrowed with age, resembling alligator hide on very old stems. Though insignificant to look at, its flowers are an important source of honey and its fruits are important to many bird species. Hollow trunks provide nesting or denning opportunities for bees and various mammals. It is the longest living non-clonal flowering plant in Eastern North America, capable of reaching ages of over 650 years.

Uses:  Nyssa sylvatica gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 2002. It is an architectural tree requiring little or no maintenance. Useful in parks and large gardens, it is often used as a specimen or shade tree. The tree is best when grown in sheltered but not crowded positions, developing a pyramidal shape in youth, and spreading with age. The stem rises to the summit of the tree in one tapering unbroken shaft, the branches come out at right angles to the trunk and either extend horizontally or droop a little, making a long-narrow, cone-like head. The leaves are short-petioled and so have little individual motion, but the branches sway as a whole. The spray is fine and abundant and lies horizontally so that the foliage arrangement is not unlike that of the beech (Fagus). Its often spectacular autumnal colouring, with intense reds to purples, is highly valued in landscape settings.

Growing conditions: Grow in moist, humus-rich, fertile soils with shelter from cold, dry winds. Resents transplanting so grow from small containerised plants. They do not tolerate lime soils.

Autumn colour- picture by Jean pol Grandmont

Autumn colour- picture by Jean pol Grandmont

Further information:

Wikipedia

RHS- Nyssa sylvatica

Barcham trees directory- Nyssa sylvatica

Old School Gardener

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