Blackgum (Sylvatica)

The Blackgum (Sylvatica) is generally described as a perennial tree. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Blackgum (Sylvatica) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a moderate growth rate. At maturity, the typical Blackgum (Sylvatica) will reach up to 95 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 30 feet.

The Blackgum (Sylvatica) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, cuttings, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have medium vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -18°F. has low tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Erosion Control: Reestablishes well in erosion prone areas like burned over forest, abandoned fields, rolling hills and cold mountain swamps.

Wildlife: Black bears, foxes, wood ducks, wild turkeys, robins, woodpeckers, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, thrushes, flickers, and starlings frequently eat the fruit, while white-tailed deer and beavers browse the twigs, foliage and young sprouts. Additionally, provides cavity and nesting sites for a variety of birds and mammals and a good honey tree.

Timber: Its wood is used for light, nonsplitting woodwork such as in docks and wharves; veneer, containers, crossties and pallets.

Recreation and Beautification: Excellent ornamental plant for its straight bole, shapely crown and attractive autumn foliage.

General Characteristics

Nyssa sylvatica Marsh., blackgum, grows from Maine west to New York, extreme southern Ontario, central Michigan, Illinois, central Missouri, and south to central Florida. It is a medium- to large-sized tree, frequently 60 to 80 ft high and 3 to 4 ft in diameter; it typically has dense foliage with a conical crown on a straight trunk. The simple, alternate leaves are leathery, and densely clustered at the branchlets. The small greenish white flowers are borne singly or in clusters. The bark is reddish brown and broken into deep irregular ridges and diamond-shaped plates.

Required Growing Conditions

It is adapted to a wide variety of sites, from the creek bottoms of the southern Coastal Plain to altitudes of 3,000 feet in North Carolina. It grows best on well-drained, light-textured soils on the low ridges of second bottoms and on the high flats of silty alluvium. It will tolerate brief spring flooding on alluvial sites and is common on the relatively dry upper and middle slopes in the Appalachian Mountains. On the drier uplands, it grows best on the loams and clay loams. It is well adapted to fire. Older trees have thick bark and relatively high moisture content. Although aboveground portions of young trees are top-killed by fire, it typically survives by sprouting from the root crown or caudex.

Blackgum is distributed throughout the East and lower Midwest.

Cultivation and Care

Blackgum is usually found with a mix of other species including black cherry (Prunus serotina), dogwood (Cornus florida), hickory (Carya spp.), oak (Quercus spp.), eastern hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), and yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), it is shade tolerant and seldom grows as dominant tree but it usually grows in the intermediate crown class on most sites. It responds favorably to release from overtopping vegetation. Seedlings grow slowly under a fully stocked stand. At the time of disturbance large numbers of new seedlings can become established.Smaller blackgum stumps sprout readily and larger stumps sprout and develop root suckers. Layering can be used to produce stocks. Seed production is highly variable, disseminated primarily by gravity and birds, others generally fall to the ground and remain dormant in the litter or are carried by water. Seed overwinters on cool, damp soil and germinates the following spring. It requires nearly full sunlight for optimum early growth. The plant tolerates competition and can exist on unfavorable sites. Pre-chilled seeds must be sown in spring. Seeds are drilled at the rate of 15 per ft of row and covered with ½ - 1 inch of soil. A mulch of sawdust is often used. Beds must be kept moist.It sprouts from the stump following disturbance. Smaller sour gum stumps sprout readily while larger stumps sprout occasionally. Sprouts arise from suppressed buds and are concentrated near the top of the stump. Stump sprouts can produce seeds at 2 years of age.

General Upkeep and Control

Seedling establishment is best accomplished by shelterwood method. Regeneration can also be accomplished by clear-cutting if prior to a good seed fall or if advanced regeneration already exist. Due to the high palatability of seedlings and sprouts, blackgum can be protected by controlling deer populations. It often competes with loblolly and shortleaf pine for water and light, reducing its growth and development. Basal tree injections with herbicide is effective control method for crown kill. Intermediate trees respond favorably to release from overhead vegetation; seedlings respond to reduction in canopy cover with relatively rapid height growth.

Pests and Potential Problems Tupelo leaf miner (Antispila nyssaefolia) and forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria) attack blackgum causing growth loss and occasional mortality.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Moderate
General Type Tree
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Spring
Displays Fall Colors Yes
Shape/Growth Form Single Stem
Drought Tolerance Low
Shade Tolerance Tolerant
Height When Mature 95
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Green
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Cuttings, Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -18
Soil Depth for Roots 30
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing Yes
Growth Requirements
pH Range 4.5–6 pH
Precipitation Range 40–40 inches/yr
Planting Density 400–800 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 30
Minimum Frost-Free Days 140 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Low
CaCO3 Tolerance None
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Medium
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA