IUCN threat status:

Not evaluated

Comprehensive Description

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This tree is 40-80' tall at maturity, forming a single trunk about 1½-3' across and a pyramidal-oblongoid to oblongoid crown. Branches are more or less horizontal, although lower branches tend to droop downward toward the base of the crown; the latter are usually crooked. Occasionally, a trunk will become forked and the crown will be more irregular and open. Trunk bark is gray or gray-brown and irregularly furrowed with scaly plates. On very old trees, these plates become thick, rectangular, and block-like. Branch bark is gray and more smooth, while twigs are brown, glabrous, and rather stout. Short spur twigs are rather common. Alternate leaves are produced along the twigs and young shoots; they are 2-5" long and 1-3" across, elliptic to broadly elliptic in shape, somewhat leathery in texture, and smooth to slightly wavy along their margins. On rare occasions, some trees may produce leaves with a few large blunt teeth. The upper leaf surface is medium green, shiny, and hairless, while the lower surface is dull pale green and either hairless or pubescent. Venation is pinnate. The slender petioles are ¼-¾" long, whitish green to red, and either hairless or pubescent. Black Tupelo is polygamo-dioecious, producing male and either female or perfect flowers on separate trees. Male flowers are produced in small umbels on slender peduncles about ½-1" long. Individual male flowers are about 1/8" across, consisting of a shallow green calyx with barely discernible teeth, insignificant green petals, and 5-10 spreading stamens with long filaments. Sessile clusters of 2-5 female flowers are produced on slender peduncles about ¾-2½" long. Individual female or perfect flowers are about 1/8" across, consisting of a tubular green calyx with 5 tiny teeth along its upper rim, insignificant green petals, an ovary with a single style, and 0-10 erect stamens on short filaments; these stamens are often abortive. The blooming period occurs during late spring as the leaves develop. Female and perfect flowers are replaced by individual or sessile clusters of 2-3 drupes on long slender peduncles. Individual drupes are up to ½" long and ovoid in shape, becoming blue-black at maturity. Each drupe has thin bitter-sour flesh and a single hard seed (stone) that is light tan, up to 1/3" long, and ellipsoid-oblongoid in shape with 10-12 faint longitudinal grooves. The deciduous leaves are quite colorful during the autumn, becoming golden yellow, orange, scarlet, or purple, sometimes with blotches of green.


Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers


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