Tree 10 - 18 m tall, trunk 20 - 40 cm in diameter, rarely to 40 m tall and 2 m in diameter Leaves: alternate, very shiny and dark green above, pale and often hairy beneath, usually clustered near ends of branches, 5 - 15 cm long, 2.5 - 10 cm wide, oval to inversely egg-shaped, non-toothed to wavy, rarely with few irregular teeth. Fall color is spectacular orange, red and purple. Flowers: either male or female, borne on separate trees (dioecious), sometimes bisexual, greenish white, on long stalks, the male flowers in almost spherical many-flowered clusters, the female flowers in small clusters. Fruit: fleshy with a hard center stone (drupe), solitary or in stalked clusters of two or three, bluish black, 0.8 - 1.2 cm long, oblong. Bark: dark gray to nearly black, resembling alligator hide, furrowed with long, deep, irregular ridges that are broken into blocks. Twigs: green to light brown and hairy, becoming dark reddish brown to gray and smooth with age. Short spur shoots are common. Terminal buds: 3 - 6 mm long, egg-shaped with a blunt to rounded tip, with yellowish to reddish brown and occasionally hairy scales. Form: conical to cylindrical, the trunk remaining undivided far into the crown, the branches horizontal with lower branches sometimes hanging down and turning upward at the ends. Lateral buds: smaller, pointing away from the stem.
Similar species: Nyssa sylvatica can be distinguished from other Chicago Region trees by its very shiny leaves with spectacular orange, red and purple fall color, horizontal branching, bark resembling alligator hide, and short spurs on twigs.
Flowering: early May to mid July
Habitat and ecology: Locally common in acidic boggy or peaty soils, wet woods, and along swamp margins, but is adaptable to upland sites. This species very rarely grows in Wisconsin.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Notes: The wood of N. sylvatica is very strong, difficult to split, and used in furniture, veneer, tool handles, docks, and shipping crates. Many birds eat the fruit. Bees collect nectar from the flowers.
Etymology: Nyssa comes from the name of a water nymph in Greek mythology. Sylvatica comes from the Latin word meaning "of the forest."
Author: The Morton Arboretum
From Flora of Indiana (1940) by Charles C. Deam
Infrequent to rare in the northern two thirds of the state and frequent to common in the southern part. It is found in both dry and wet soils, apparently preferring slightly acid soils. It is erratic in its distribution and is found in several tree associations. The leaves of coppice shoots and sometimes those of seedlings are often more or less lobed.
[Deam recognizes var. caroliniana, a form in which the lower leaf surfaces are papillose and the leaf apices usually acuminate rather than acute or blunt.] This variety is infrequent in the southern part of the state. It is one of the cove type and prefers a richer soil than does the typical form. Pioneers have always insisted that there were two kinds of black gum. They distinguish them by their splitting qualities. The form very difficult to split was known as the black gum, and the form that split "like poplar" was known as yellow gum. The bark of the variety much resembles that of the tulip tree, and the branches are usually ascending.
Tree to 30 m; lvs often crowded distally except on rapidly growing shoots, elliptic to obovate, 4-15 cm, usually abruptly short-acuminate to an obtuse or acute tip, entire or rarely with a few coarse teeth, broadly cuneate at base; staminate fls in an umbel or umbel-like raceme, the peduncles 1-3 cm, the pedicels 1-5 mm; fertile fls 2-4, sessile at the end of a peduncle that elongates to usually 3-6 cm, the 5 sep small but evident; fr blue-black, ovoid to globular, 1-1.5 cm; stone with ca 10 shallow grooves separated by low, rounded ridges; 2n=44; fl May, June. The var. sylvatica, as thus described, is a common constituent of moist forests from s. Me. to Fla., w. to se. Wis., e. and s. Ill., Mo., and Tex. The well marked var. biflora (Walter) Sarg., swamp blackgum, grows in wet places, often in deep fresh-water swamps, on the coastal plain from Del. to Fla. and La. It differs in its narrower, more oblanceolate, blunter lvs, shorter fruiting peduncles 1-3 cm, and usually only 2 pistillate fls together; the trunk becomes much swollen at the base when the tree grows in standing water. (N. biflora)
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.