- Grove City, Pennsylvania

October 22, 2011

Blackgum tree outperforms

Autumn perfect time to plant

By T.C. Conner/The Write Gardener
Allied News

GROVE CITY — By the time you read this, the fall color show will be at or past peak. I hope you were able to get out and enjoy the brilliant leaf colors in the landscapes and woodlots surrounding your home.

I'm still fascinated by the extraordinary metamorphosis Mother Nature applies to the trees in autumn! I have a specimen in my backyard that outperforms any other variety: Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), also known as Black Gum.

Native to eastern North America, the Black Gum, or blackgum, tree has spectacular fall color, a deep crimson red, and is among the first to change its colors.

Its leaves are thin, allowing light to shine through, creating a lovely crimson-red glow. During summer its leaves are a glossy dark green, and the tree is ideal for shade, growing 30-50 feet high with a 20-30 foot spread.

Blackgums grow best in acidic, loamy, well-drained soil; consider these requirements carefully before adding this lovely tree to your landscape.

Blackgum trees are slow growing, especially when first planted. It may take five to 10 years before you'll see any significant height increase. It's also one of the most long-lived, some have been aged to over 400 years, so you can probably be sure of a nice legacy tree for your family that'll be enjoyed for a long time.

Birds and other wildlife benefit from the berries that ripen in August.

Wood from the blackgum tree is cross-grained and almost impossible to split.

This makes it perfect for use in mauls, bowls, paving blocks, types of rollers and wheel hubs, pulleys and a variety of other applications (railroad ties, flooring, gun stock) that require hard wood that doesn't easily crack or split.

You can use it in your woodstove too, just remember that it's difficult to split if you do it the old-fashioned way!

If you're wondering if the blackgum tree is gummy because of its name, it's not. Blackgums are dry-wooded and do not produce sap.

My research led to info that says a tree known as sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) overlaps its range with the blackgum, and is known for its sweetly aromatic resin.

Other common names for the blackgum include sour gum, beetlebung, and pepperidge tree. (Perhaps a radical botanist decided on the common name "blackgum" because it sounded better than any of the others in use.)

Autumn is the perfect time to plant a new tree or shrub.

The cooler temperatures make digging a little easier, and a plant's root system is not stressed as much as it would be if planted during warmer weather.

My autumn harvest includes a bushel of thanks to you, my readers.

T.C. Conner is a columnist for Allied News. He can be reached at Check out his blog at www.thewritegardener. His new book, "Through the Seasons with The Write Gardener," is available for sale at Allied News. Published Oct. 19, 2011 in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201A Erie St., Grove City.