Sourgum & Cultivars

Sourgum, Black Tupelo, Black Gum, etc.
Nyssa sylvatica Cultivars

Black Tupelo

Sourgum, Black Tupelo or Black Gum, or whatever your common regional name is for Nyssa sylvatica, chances are you would plant more if you could get your hands on nice specimens. Sourgum’s biggest attraction is its spectacular fall color. Its nemesis has been the irregular form that plagues successful growing and use of the straight species.

For example, the seedlings of Nyssa sylvatica progeny come in all forms: sparse, dense weeping, upright, perfect and not so perfect. Some would have leaders that suddenly took a 90 degree turn- not a positive trait. Sometimes matching 10, 20 or 30 specimens for a street tree installation could be a challenge, if not impossible. However, new cultivars with excellent consistent structure and single straight leaders have been released over the past several years, giving us lots of great new options. Here are the Nyssa sylvatica cultivars that are now most readily available:

  • Afterburner®
  • Firestarter®
  • Forum®
  • Green Gable™
  • Gum Drop®
  • Northern Splendor
  • Red Rage®
  • Tupelo Tower™
  • Wildfire
In general terms, this eastern North American native tree tolerates wet conditions but does not require wet ground. It appears to tolerate drought but thrives in moist well-draining soils. Leaves tend to be glossy, smooth edge, ovoid, 2 to 3 times longer than wide on flexible limbs and twigs. Leaf spot disease is the only concern I have heard of for this tree and from my experience, likely only occurs in limited locations. These characteristics describe the perfect urban street tree.

The new cultivars now provide us with more desirable and reliable growth habit. And their fall color can be “stop in your tracks, knock your socks off, spectacular”! A current favorite in Afterburner® appropriately named of course. Summer leaf color is the richest of greens and fire engine red in the fall. But it appears that all of the cultivars have excellent fall color and the narrowest cultivar is the Tupelo Tower™.

Nyssa are know to be deep rooted with limited fibrous roots and are said to be difficult to transplant. That is not our experience, but try to find B & B trees that have been transplanted more than once. Container or root-bag trees may also be easier to transplant. Once established, they become near bullet proof trees. Their deep roots may also result in less infrastructure damage as long as deeper soils are available. Put a down payment on what you want early because these will all be hot and hard to find trees!

Please share comments on this or other varieties here.

Jim Barborinas
ISA Certified Arborist #0135
ASCA Registered Consulting Arborist #356
 Certified Tree Risk Assessor #PNW-0327