Carolinian
and Deciduous Forest Trees

of Southern Ontario

Black Gum
Nyssa Sylvatica

Location in Ontario:
Black Gum is a Carolinian Tree found in Lambton County, Essex County, Middlesex County, Chatham-Kent, Norfolk County and the Niagara Region.


Black Gums in a row, Wheatley Provincial Park

Genus Nyssa: Leaves are simple and alternate. Nyssa are found in wet habitats. The wood is fine textured and strong. The trees are dioecious with male (pollen) flowers and female (seed) flowers occurring on different trees. The fruit is a berry. In Ontario, the only species of Nyssa is Black Gum.

Habitat: The Black Gum tree grows on low wet ground around streams or in swamps.

Landscape Use: Black Gum makes an outstanding medium sized landscape tree, with its handsome glossy leaves and brilliant fall colours. The bark and form make an interesting specimen in the winter. However, Black Gum has slow growth and needs a lot of moisture.

TREE FACT: Black Gum, also called Sour Gum, does not produce gum at all; it is named gum because of similarities to Sweet Gum. It is also called Pepperidge or Black Tupelo, tupelo meaning swamp tree.

Leaves: The leaves are alternate and simple, thick and glossy with smooth edges.

FALL COLOUR WATCH: Leaves can be yellow, orange, scarlet, red or purple. Leaves are often mottled with colour, rather than turning colour completely.


Black Gum leaves can be a very deep red

Size: This slow growing, medium sized tree grows to 20 metres and can live to be 600 years of age!


Fall colours of old growth Black Gum in Backus Woods, Norfolk County

Bark: The bark is dark gray and broken into rectangular shaped ridges. It is said to resemble alligator skin.


Interesting bark pattern, Backus Woods, Norfolk County

Flowers: Black Gum is dioecious with male (pollen) flowers and female (seed) flowers occurring on different trees. Flowers are greenish-white in colour and tiny. Female flowers are in sparse clusters and male flowers are in dense clusters. Flowers appear in early June after the leaves are out.


Black Gum flowers

Fruit:  The fruit is a black berry (drupe) that is oily and sour. The fruit appears in early summer and ripens in late September. Fruit production is variable. No data is available for the age that Black Gum produces fruit. 


Mature fruit

TREE FACT: The fruit of Black Gum is an important food source for animals because it is oil-rich.

Wood: The wood is medium hard and heavy. Black Gum is used for veneer and crates. Due to its double, twisting grain, it is extremely difficult to split for firewood. 
Specific Gravity: 0.50
Janka Hardness: 810 lb
Wood Comparison Chart


Two Black Gums, and one fallen. Wheatley Provincial Park

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