TUPELO (Nyssa). — Nyssa is a small genus containing only 7 species, of which five occur in North America and two in southern Asia. Four of the American species are trees, and one is a shrub. The leaves are alternate, thick and leathery, almost entire, oblong, or obovate, and are brilliantly colored in autumn. The flowers are small, greenish, and appear with the leaves. The stamens and pistils are usually in different flowers on different trees, the staminate are clustered, and the pistillate solitary or two to three together. The name of the water nymph Nyssa was given to this genus on account of the aquatic habit of the species.
White Tupelo (Nyssa aquatica). White gum. Cotton gum. Water tupelo. Tupelo gum. Swamp tupelo. In river swamps in the coast region from southern Virginia to northern Florida, westward to the Nueces River, Texas; northward through Arkansas, west Tennessee and west Kentucky, and southern Missouri to the lower Wabash River, Illinois. A large water-loving tree, attaining a height of 100 feet and a diameter of 4 feet. The bark is dark brown in color, ridged and broken into small scales. The leaves are thick, oval, pointed at the apex, dark green and shining above, paler and pubescent below. The small greenish flowers open in April and May; the staminate are in dense round heads; the pistillate or fertile are solitary on slender stalks. The blue-purple fruit ripens in September. The wood is soft, but can be used for crates and packing-boxes. In the older floras the Latin name of this species is given, as Nyssa uniflora.
The honey of white tupelo has a very mild exquisite flavor and a thick body, and is very light in color with a pale lemon hue, which renders it very attractive in glass containers. The bulk of this honey is produced in the extracted form and shipped northward in 30-gallon barrels. It is in great demand among northern dealers in honey, who prefer it because it does not granulate. The nectar is secreted very copiously and a great amount is collected by the bees in a few weeks; but they are not numerous enough to harvest more than a small part of it. In pine-barren ponds the white tupelo is often a small tree, which may be readily mistaken for a distinct species.
Black Tupelo (Nyssa biflora). Black gum. Water gum. Water tupelo. This species has a much more restricted range than white tupelo, extending only from Montgomery County, Maryland, to Florida and central Alabama. A large tree attaining a maximum height of over 100 feet, with a rough, ridged, dark-brown bark. The oval leaves are smaller than those of the white tupelo, smooth on both sides, blunt-pointed, with entire margins. The blossoms appear in April and May, and the dark-blue, plum-shaped fruit in early fall; the staminate flowers are clustered, the pistillate are two together, instead of solitary as in the white tupelo. Black tupelo throughout its range is usually associated with white tupelo, but it often extends to higher land. It is abundant along lake margins and on the bottomlands of small streams. The fruit, which falls into the water, sometimes accumulates in large heaps in sheltered coves.
The beginning of the honey flow is determined by the length of time the lowlands are covered by water. If there has been no overflow in early spring the trees in northern Florida will bloom in March, and the honey flow will last for three weeks. But if there has been much rain and the rivers have flooded the bottomlands, the blooming time will be much delayed. The honey when first gathered is thick, light in color, and very mild in flavor; but with age it grows darker colored and stronger flavored.
Sour Gum (Nyssa sylvatica). Pepperidge. Black gum. This large forest tree, 100 to 150 feet tall, is the giant of the tupelos, and has a much wider distribution than any other species. It extends from the Kennebec River, Maine, Ontario,