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What Is Tupelo Gum?

The tupelo gum tree prefers marshes and swamps.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2014
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A tupelo gum is a tree in the genus Nyssa native to the North America. Nyssa includes around 10 species of trees native to regions all over the world; people are usually thinking of N. aquatica, N. sylvatica, or N. biflora when they refer to a tupelo gum. Other common names for the tupelo gum include: swamp tupelo, black tupelo, water tupelo, and yellow tupelo.

These trees prefer aquatic environments such as marshes and swamps. The seeds need dry conditions to germinate, usually sprouting in the summer months, and the adult trees have distinctive widened bases which are designed to provide support to the tree. The natural design of the tree's base acts like a buttressing system to keep the tree from listing or falling in soggy soil. Tupelo gums can be found from Florida to Canada, depending on the species, although they are famously associated with the American South.

The leaves of a tupelo gum are simple and ovate, appearing in an alternate pattern. Some species can grow up to 90 feet (27 meters) tall, with crowns which tend to flatten and spread out with time. The crown of the tree may become ragged and slightly ratty looking if it is not carefully pruned and managed. Tupelo gums are also deciduous, losing their leaves in the fall after a showy display of yellow, orange, and red foliage. Healthy trees have brownish to gray scaly bark.

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In the American South, the tupelo gum is prized as a honey source, with monofloral honey produced from tupelo gum trees being very popular. The wood of the tree can also be used for various building projects and crafts. Tupelo gums are also grown ornamentally. They work well in marshy yards, and they can be quite beautiful ornamental trees; despite their bulbous bases, they are strangely graceful, and when healthy, they can be quite stunning.

Many nurseries in areas where these trees can grow carry tupelo gum trees, or can order them by request. The soil and water needs of these trees are a bit specialized, so gardeners should make sure that conditions in their garden are appropriate for a tupelo gum. If they aren't sure, they can consult a landscaping company or gardening expert, and get information about whether or not it will be possible to modify conditions to suit the needs of a tupelo gum tree. Gardeners should remember that these trees grow to be quite large, so they shouldn't be planted in close proximity to structures.

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