Monday, September 13, 2010


"She’s as sweet as tupelo honey" - Van Morrison

Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) is a tree I learned about recently. Back in July, I found a small freshly broken tree (probably from a recent thunderstorm) from which I scavenged some wood from for a project I was working on. I tried to identify the tree using my handy Trees of New York book (always in my backpack) but was unsuccessful. Coincidentally, a couple of days later, I was with a naturalist at Lake Minnewaska State Park and saw the exact same type of tree. Upon asking what it was, I was told it was a tupelo (which also goes by other names such as sourgum, blackgum, and pepperidge).

I didn't recognize it in the tree book because the book showed the leaves as highly glossy and my tree didn't have those glossy leaves. Turns out that's a natural variation - sometimes the leaves are not glossy (which is why it can be so tricky to identify plants from a book - also why, in geology labs, I always tell my students not to rely on color to identify minerals - look at their physical properties like hardness, cleavage, crystal form, etc).

The fall tree will have berry-like fruits so I'll have to hike back up in a few weeks and make sure I correctly identified it.

Photos from Wikipedia.  The Latin name Nyssa sylvatica mean "water nymph of the woods" since many species of tupelo are tolerant of wet conditions and will grow in southern swamps.

Tupelo's interesting also for the fact that the tree's flowers are frequented by bees and, down in the Deep South, tupelo honey is popular.  Once I learned that I had to get a jar to taste it - it is very good (random fact - the "gold" in Peter Fonda's movie Ulee's Gold is tupelo honey).

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