Black Tupelo – The Other Red Tree

“Autumn paints in colors that summer has never seen” – Author unknown

We are coming up on Fall Foliage Week and the time of the year that we get to celebrate all the colors of fall.  For many of us this means watching our trees turn hues of red, orange, and yellow.  There are many trees that offer great red fall color but nothing compares to the Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica).

Now I am sure that many of you are scratching your head and wondering why you  have never heard of this tree.  Black Tupelo is a regionally native tree that can reach about 30’-50’ tall and half that in spread.  It is a good choice for damp/wet locations and is tolerant of clay soils.  It does produce fruit but the tree is dioecious meaning the tree is either male or female.  The fruit are small and most of the time birds eat all of them before they drop.  Not to mention you need a male tree to pollinate and the chances are no one in your neighborhood has one.  Michael Dirr calls it one of the top five shade trees for fall color.  Leaves turn a kaleidoscope of red, yellow and orange in the fall and is a true show stopper.  I would go as far to say the red fall color is superior to the over-planted Autumn Blaze Maple.  So why are we not seeing more of this tree or is it too good to be true?

Black Tupelo has been classified as a slow growing tree and a reputation that it is difficult to transplant.  However, some new publications are showing that it is a moderate growing tree after the first year in the ground.  The trade off for fast growing trees tend to be a weaker wood and prone to limb breakage (think silver maples and cottonwood).  Slower to moderate growing trees have stronger wood and are usually less prone to limb breakage.

Why settle for a tree that is overplanted when you could plant the extraordinary?  If you are in the market for a new tree this should be on your short list.

More information can be found here:

Scott Evans
Scott Evans is a horticulture assistant with Nebraska Extension in Douglas-Sarpy Counties. A certified arborist through International Society of Arboirculture and Nebraska Arborist Association. Scott is also Tree Risk Assessment Qualified through ISA. Scott co-leads the Master Gardener program in Douglas & Sarpy counties. Along with volunteer management he provides his expertise with disease and insect identification, lawn and landscape weed management, plant health, and I.P.M. practices. He also enjoys growing many houseplants ranging from African violets to cacti and succulents. Scott has two Bachelors of Science, one in Biology (emphasis in Botany, Ecology and Environmental Science) and second in Environmental Geology from Northwest Missouri State University. He earned his Master of Agriculture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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