This spring I wrote of sour gum/black gum/tupelo/pepperidge (Nyssa sylvatica) when I noticed for the first time that I had a male tree (with stamens) and a female tree (with pistils) in my back field. Until then I thought of them as just two tupelos. Well, the bird-beloved result of their union have now resulted in greenish fruits which soon will be blue-purple. So, flowers, fruits, now a word about – foliage. Tupelo leaves are wonderfully lustrous green in spring and summer before turning intense scarlets, oranges, and purples in fall. But, wait, the time has come, as every year, when a few red leaves start to color up on the tree and in turn fall to the ground. In July! Surely it is a sign of things to come. Autumn awaits.
Name Game: “Nyssa” is the name of a Greek water nymph, and “sylvatica” refers to woodlands; “sylvan” being an old English word for “one who frequents groves and woods.” Nyssa sylvatica, growing from uplands to stream bottoms, from Maine to southern Florida and west to Texas, is an absolute woodland – and landscape - delight.
The genus Nyssa consists of nine species of the Americas and Asia, the most common one in the United States being Nyssa sylvatica. Water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica) is another native species of the southeastern U.S. All Nyssa have horizontal branching on the lower part of the tree and, like Nyssa sylvatica profiled above, have dioecious flowers (two-houses).