Nyssa sylvatica is a tree to 30 m, young bark smooth, gray, bark of young trees trunks pale gray-brown, flaky, pith chambered, bark on old trees becoming deeply, broadly fissured; habit stiff, branches at right angle to trunk, usually slender compared to trunk (branching pattern “spider-web like” when viewed from below), twigs zigzagged; winter buds with 4 overlapping scales, standing away from twig, tip pointed, leaf scar with 3 vein scars (Harlow 1946; Petrides 1988). Males root sprout, forming clones (Personal observation).
Leaves alternate, elliptic to widest above middle, to 15 cm long, simple, entire or with few obscure teeth near top, shiny, fall leaf color red; leaves expand early-mid May; winter plant leafless 164 days (Britton 1874).
Flowers green, tiny, usually dioecious; pollinated mostly be bees but also wind pollinated. Blooms May-June. Bees use nectar for honey.
Fruit fleshy, blue-black, 1-seeded, ca 1cm, Sept.-Oct. Seed load 29%. Pulp nutrients: water 73%, lipid 15%, protein 4%, CHO 46% (White 1989). Fruit high in lipids, drop to ground after ripening, eaten by many birds (particularly migrating robins) and mammals, including raccoons and skunks (Burns and Honkala 1990; Martin et al. 1951; Wilson 1993). Seeds must overwinter to germinate.
Wetland status: FAC.
Frequency in New York City: Common.
Habitat: Moist woods and swamp forests. Prefers moist soil pH 5-6. Tolerant of drought, ozone, flooding, susceptible to fire, intolerant of salt (Hightshoe 1988). Tolerant of partial shade, index 2-4 (probably more tolerant).
Notes: Twigs eaten by deer (Martin et al. 1951). Very persistent and growing slowly in forest understories with dappled shade. Seedlings grow slowly under closed canopy.. Black tupelo is sometimes infected by Nectria canker, Nectria galligena, Ascomycotina; Hypocreaceae, (see Betula lenta). It is also susceptible to Oxyporus latemarginatus, (Polyporaceae, Basidiomycotina), which causes root rot and often infects trees that have been damaged by fire. The fruiting body is a polypore mushroom. Other fungi infecting tupelo include Fusarium solani (Deuteromycotina, Hyphomycetes), a root rot; Daedalea ambigua (Basidiomycotina, Polyporaceae), a polypore bracket fungus; Hydnum erinaceus, the hedgehog fungus (Hericium erinaceus, Hydnaceae, Basidiomycotina), a cause of butt rot. The fruiting body of H. erinaceus (Basidiocarp) is edible when young (Lincoff 1981). Black tupelo leaves may be attacked by the mite Aceria nyssae, an eriophyid mite that causes pimple-like, yellow blisters on the upper surface of the leaves. Black tupelo is host to a number of moth larvae, including the tupelo leafminer Atispila nysaefoliella, a moth larva, family Heliozelidae. These are tiny moths with wingspans of only 0.8 cm. The larva causes tan blotches in leaves up to 2.5 cm wide. When ready to pupate, the pale green, flattened, legless larva is about 0.5 cm long. It cuts a hole up to 1 cm wide in the mined part of the leaf, plasters the two cut leaf surfaces to its body and drops to the ground, where it pupates. There can be several generations in one growing season. Other moth larvae that attack black tupelo include gypsy moths (Lymantria dispar), eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) forest tent caterpillars (M. disstria), and the sour gum clearwing borer (Synanthedon rubrofascia; Sesiidae). Most of the moths in this genus appear wasp-like. The larvae bore tunnels in the bark and wood of trees (Agrios 1988; Burns and Honkala 1990; Covell 1984; Johnson and Lyon 1991; Sinclair et al. 1987).