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Featured Tree: Black Gum

Image courtesy of Franklin Bonner, USFS (ret.),

In terms of spectacular fall color, a favorite specimen, Nyssa sylvatica, black gum, is one of the first trees to think of. Though the leaves are dark green in summer, once the season changes, this tree exhibits very consistent bright red color. In addition to its bright autumn show, the black gum has beautiful bark that adds ornamental interest. The bark is deeply ridged and is often compared to alligator skin.

The black gum is also a favorite of wildlife. The trees typically have an early color change, which attracts many birds that feed on its sour, dark blue berries. Robin, thrush, cardinals, waxwings, and starlings are just a few of the winged visitors that frequent these trees in search of food. Although the trees' flowers are not showy, they do serve as an excellent nectar source for bees.

Very adaptable to the landscape and urban conditions, black gum grows slowly. They can reach a large mature height of 30 to 60 feet depending on the site and can be grown in full sun to partial shade.

Some trees can develop leaf spotting. Work is being done in the nursery trade to provide cleaner selections. That said, the cultivar called 'Red Rage' is a favorite choice. It is leaf-spot resistant, has a great pyramidal form, and outstanding red fall color. Other popular cultivars include 'Autumn Cascades' with a more weeping form and 'Wildfire' with reddish new growth that persists into summer. All in all the black gum is a great specimen tree with multiple seasons of interest suitable for any garden.

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