This past weekend has been a blur. We had a symposium on trees at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on Saturday and then a propagation workshop for most of the day on Monday. The highlight was having Dr. Michael Dirr in town to speak at the symposium and lead the propagation workshop for our guests. If you’ve had the good fortune to spend any time with Dr. Dirr and his wife, Bonnie, you know that you need to keep your ears open and be ready to absorb as much information as possible. The both love to read, travel, and share information about life and plants.
One plant in particular that Dr. Dirr kept bringing up time and time again was the tupelo tree or Nyssa sylvatica. Tupelo or black gum as it is also called, is native from Ontario down to Texas and Florida. We have a few plants that are native here on the CMBG property. It is thought that these might be the northeastern most trees in North America. We are trying to clone these trees in the hopes that they can provide some cold hardiness to the group. (By the way, did you know that Van Morrison’s song “Tupelo Honey,” refers to the honey that bees make after getting nectar from these trees?)
Once established, Nyssa sylvatica will form a strongly pyramidal tree with an ultimate height of around 60′ tall and around half that distance in width. Well-grown trees are spectacular in form and remind me of what trees look like when my kids draw trees (other than the rounded, puff-ball shaped trees they sometimes draw). Tupelo should be grown in an acidic soil and will grow best in a low area with adequate moisture with well-drained soil. Nyssa has a strong taproot once established so it is best to move the trees when they are younger. Larger trees can be moved but require a larger rootball.
Of course, the most spectacular quality of the tupelo is its fall color. It is crimson red. The sight of a Nyssa in fall color on a bright cool day in autumn will make you fall in love with this tree.
There are numerous cultivars coming onto the market with many already available for purchase. After hearing Dr. Dirr speak, there seem to be more cultivars in the works and possibly coming down the pike. Some of these cultivars include: ‘Autumn Cascades’ (weeping form), Red Rage (leaf spot resistant), ‘Sheri’s Cloud’ (variegated), ‘Wildfire’ (brilliant red new growth), and ‘Zydeco Twist’ (twisting, contorted growth).
Tupelo is a wonderful native tree for a landscape that has the room to let it grow and show off its form. The new cultivars add even more opportunity to try this plant in the landscape. Are you growing Nyssa sylvatica or any of these cultivars?
Images: plants.chaletnursery.com, waysidegardens.com, jcraulstonarboretum.wordpress.com