Thursday, April 15, 2010


Contributing Writer - Carol Herwig, Volunteer Coordinator
Ongoing Series - Trees of Note

When asked to pick my favorite tree, I can be fickle. A majestic white oak at the Franciscan Monastery draws me in the winter. In the summer, nothing’s cooler than the cedar in Grant Circle. But I always come back to the blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica) — my blackgum — at Rock Creek Cemetery’s oak grove.

In early April, the leaves are small, Granny Smith apple green, and very shiny. By early summer, they’ll be glossy and dark green. The flowers, in green clusters, are demure, easy to miss. Tree id books claim that the fruit is blue and berry-like. I’ve never seen them.

blackgum is tall – easily 50 feet. It stands up to the big 100-year-old white oaks and hickories that frame it with a slightly weeping format. The trunk is lean, but the bark is dark, almost black and chunky, hence the common names blackgum and black tupelo.

In late August, early September, my
blackgum debuts an elegant display of lipstick-red leaves. It starts with just a tip of red on a leaf or two, as if the tree misread the weather.

There are many trees native to this area that have outstanding fall color:
sweetgum, serviceberry, oxydendron, even the pear. But nothing offers the pure red of this blackgum. Think Ferrari red. Red shoes red.

And then it’s gone, leaving me to anticipate its return in the spring.

Visit this Tree of Note!

Rock Creek Cemetery
Rock Creek Church Road and Webster Street NW
Washington, DC

See all the Trees of Note on the Casey Trees Map.

Blackgum 101:
  • Alt names - Sourgum, black tupelo
  • Location - native to North America
  • Crown - oval, pyramidal
  • Height - 65-75'
  • Foliage - 4-8" in length, elliptic, alternate, simple.
  • Color - green in spring/summer; orange and red in the fall
  • Flowers - white, inconspicuous; spring flowering
  • Fruit - oval, round; blue
  • Bark- dark, chunky
  • Landscape Use - shade tree, street tree, parking lot islands, wide tree lawns, median strips

Nominate a Tree of Note! All individuals that nominate a Tree of Note by Arbor Day on Friday, April 30, 2010 will be entered to win a signed copy of City of Trees by Melanie Choukas-Bradley. All Trees of Note can be found on the Casey Trees Map.

1 comment:

Embaril said...

I am fortunate to have a black gum and the fruit is indeed blue and berry like. The birds adore them.
In spring honey bees are attracted to the inconspicuous, but numerous flowers. The tree actually buzzes there are so many bees.