- Marion Sinclair, an Australian music teacher, composed a song for her students about black gum trees, perhaps you have heard it? The song, “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, eating all the gumdrops he can see,” pays tribute to the gum tree’s beauty and the animals that inhabit it.
- Although black gum trees do not typically add significant value to properties, they make an excellent choice for ornamental landscaping. They produce beautiful leaves that change color in the summer and fall, as well as fruits that attract wildlife. Black gum trees are slow-growing and require enough space for their roots to spread. They can grow up to 30 to 50 feet in height on average and are adaptable, thriving in a variety of environments.
Black Gum Tree Habitats
Black gum trees, also known as black tupelo, are primarily found in the mid-eastern and eastern coastal areas of the United States. Their distribution includes USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9, which stretch from southern Ontario and Maine to Florida and Texas.
Although black gum trees are typically found in wet habitats, they are adaptable and can thrive in a variety of environments. They can grow in swampy wetlands, rocky upland woodlands, and upland sand flats. These trees also have some drought tolerance, allowing them to grow in drier areas.
Black gum trees can tolerate shade but prefer the sun and require moderate water for optimal growth. They are winter-hardy trees that grow best in moist, acidic soil that drains well.
Black gum trees may not add value to your property, but they are a great option for ornamental landscaping if you’re planning to plant them.
You can plant black gum trees individually to provide shade, but they can also be planted in groups to create a stunning visual display.
The leaves of black gum trees are oval-shaped and shed each winter. In September, they change from a shiny, dark green color to yellow. As the fall progresses, the leaves transform into beautiful shades of red and purple.
Pros: Their thin leaves is that sunlight can pass through them. This gives the red leaves a luminous quality, which is why they’re also called wildfire black tupelo trees.
Black gum trees produce clusters of light greenish-white flowers situated close to the leaves during April and May.
Pros: These flowers is that they are not significant enough to cause a lot of mess when they drop.
Black gum trees produce fruit that is attractive to wildlife and ripens in the fall. The fruit is high in nutrients such as crude fat, calcium, phosphorus, and fiber.
Cons: uneaten fruit may drop to the ground along with animal droppings, creating a potentially slippery area on sidewalks, patios, and decks. Because of this, black gum trees may not be the best choice for highly populated areas.
The growth rate of black gum trees is categorized as slow to moderate. Within a span of 10 to 15 years, they can reach a height of 12 to 15 feet.
Pros: One advantage of black gum trees is their longevity, thanks to their slow growth rate. These trees have a lifespan of more than 650 years.
Cons: However, one downside to black gum trees is their need for ample space for root expansion. Due to the development of a large, deep taproot at an early stage, these trees are not readily available in nurseries, making transportation a challenge.
These trees are of medium size and lose their leaves every year. Typically, they grow to be 30-60 feet tall and 20-30 feet wide. However, in ideal conditions, they can reach a towering height of 75 feet.
Cons: growing black gum trees is that they are not suitable for areas with height limitations, such as locations with overhead electrical wires.
In their early stages, black gum trees have a pyramid shape, but as they mature, they develop a flat top. Unlike oak trees, which have a decurrent form, black gum trees have an excurrent form, where one branch grows as the leader with smaller branches growing horizontally from the trunk.
Pros: The branches are smaller in diameter than the trunk, the joints are stronger. This makes them less likely to break off during storms or high winds, reducing the risk of damage to the tree and its surroundings. As a result, there is minimal debris beneath these trees after such weather events.
The bark of the black gum tree is deeply ridged and has a texture resembling alligator skin. When the trunk is cut, the wood has a light, fine-textured, and uniform appearance.
Pro: Black gum wood has numerous applications, including being used as flooring, lumber, and paper pulp, among other things. Additionally, it is a low-value wood, making it a cost-effective option.
Con: The wood of black gum trees is highly challenging to split with an ax. Therefore, if you plan to cut your wood for fire, it’s best to avoid black gum trees.
Pests and Disease
Currently, black gum trees do not face any major pest or disease issues that specifically target them. However, this does not imply that black gums are entirely problem-free.
Some common issues that black gum trees encounter include canker, leaf spots, rust, black twig borer, and scales.
Black Twig Borers
Unlike the Emerald Ash Borer, which has caused a significant decline in the population of ash trees, the Black Twig Borer is not responsible for the extinction of black gum trees.
The first indication of Black Twig Borer damage is wilting of twigs and leaves. These pests bore into the branches and leaves, leaving behind small holes and infesting the tree with fungus. As the fungus spreads, more leaves and branches wilt and eventually stop growing.
To manage and prevent Black Twig Borer infestation, it’s important to prune the affected area until you see healthy wood. Early detection is critical. Once these beetles infest a tree, pesticides cannot control them, and fungicides cannot eliminate their fungus. After removing the affected branches, specific pesticides may be effective in preventing further infestation.
Caring for a Black Gum Tree
The primary aspects of caring for a black gum tree include fertilizer, water, and maintaining the area around the tree.
To feed the tree, use a slow-release granular fertilizer during the fall season. First, measure the diameter of the trunk from 4 feet above the ground. Then, apply 2 cups of fertilizer for every inch of trunk diameter.
Starting from the trunk, spread the fertilizer to 1 ½ times the distance from the trunk to the end of the branches. For instance, if the trunk is 5 feet from the end of the branches, spread the fertilizer 7 ½ feet from the trunk.
During the young stage of the tree, water the soil twice a week. Set your sprinkler for 45 minutes each session. If you are using a drip irrigation system, use two emitters per tree and let them run for 30 minutes.
Once the tree is well-established, it can thrive on rainwater. If there is a drought, water the tree once a week—45 minutes with a sprinkler or 90 minutes using an irrigation system.
To maintain the area around the tree, use a rake to clear away any fallen or decaying branches, leaves, or fruit. Dispose of them properly. Unless the tree is diseased or infested, there is no need for pesticides, fungicides, or pruning.
Are you interested in knowing more about black gum trees? Fortunately, you can find some common inquiries related to the advantages and disadvantages of black gum trees asked by others.
Are black gum berries edible?
While technically, it is possible to consume black gum fruit, it is not very palatable. The thick skin is unappealing, and the pulp tastes sour and bitter, which is why they have the name sour gum trees. If used, the fruit is usually preserved in a sweetened form.
What is black gum used for?
Due to the toughness of its interlocking grain, black gum was previously used for creating oxen yokes or chopping bowls. Although it is not considered a visually pleasing timber for woodworking standards, it is still utilized today. Black gum is commonly used in making furniture, railroad ties, cabinets, and caskets.
What’s the difference between black gum trees and sweet gum trees?
Despite both trees producing flowers, berries, and brightly colored leaves, they do have some variations. Sweetgum trees are known for their sweet-smelling sap, hence their name. However, their berries are equally as bitter as those of black gum trees.
The leaves of sweetgum trees have three to seven lobes, whereas black gum trees have oval-shaped leaves.
Lastly, the color of their wood differs. The sapwood of sweet gum trees ranges from white to light pink, and the heartwood is reddish-brown. In contrast, black gum trees have light gray-brown sapwood and dark gray-brown heartwood.
Is black gum a good street tree?
Black gum trees have proven to be resilient and versatile, making them suitable for various environments. In urban and suburban settings, they have thrived in parks, spacious tree-lined streets, and medium to large parking lot islands, and even as street trees.
The most significant advantage of black gum trees is their stunning appearance. They showcase a range of vibrant colors throughout the seasons that persist year after year. Additionally, they are sturdy and long-lasting due to their slow growth.
However, black gum trees also have some disadvantages. Their fruit attracts animals and can create a slippery mess on the ground. Because of their deep taproot, they are challenging to acquire from nurseries since transportation is difficult. Moreover, you must be careful where you plant them because of their tall height.