For other uses, see Tupelo (disambiguation).
Nyssa sylvatica foliage and flowers
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Cornales
Family: Cornaceae
Subfamily: Nyssoideae
Genus: Nyssa
Gronov. ex L.[1]
  • Tupelo Adans.
  • Agathisanthes Blume
  • Ceratostachys Blume
  • Streblina Raf.
  • Daphniphyllopsis Kurz

Tupelo /ˈtpl/, genus Nyssa /ˈnɪsə/,[3] is a small genus of deciduous trees with alternate, simple leaves.[1][4] It is usually included in the subfamily Nyssoideae of the dogwood family, Cornaceae, but is placed by some authorities in the family Nyssaceae.[5]

Most Nyssa species are highly tolerant of wet soils and flooding, and some need such environments as habitat.[6] Some of the species are native to eastern North America from southeastern Canada through the Eastern United States to Mexico and Central America.[1] Other species are found in eastern and southeastern Asia from China south through Indochina to Java and southwest to the Himalayas.[2][4]


The genus name Nyssa refers to a Greek water nymph.[7] The name tupelo, the common name used for Nyssa, is of Native American origin, coming from the Creek words ito 'tree' and opilwa 'swamp'; it was in use by the mid-18th century.[8]

The city of Tupelo, Mississippi, is named for this tree.


Seven to ten species of Nyssa are recognized:[2][1]

  1. Nyssa aquatica L. Water tupelo (southeastern United States)
  2. Nyssa biflora Walter[1][5] (or Nyssa sylvatica var. biflora[2])
  3. Nyssa javanica (Blume) Wangerin - Eastern Himalayas, Indochina, Borneo, Java, Sumatra
  4. Nyssa ogeche W.Bartram ex Marshall Ogeechee tupelo (southeastern United States)
  5. Nyssa sinensis Oliv. Chinese tupelo (southern China, Vietnam, Myanmar)
  6. Nyssa sylvatica Marshall Black tupelo or black-gum (eastern + central United States; eastern + southern Mexico; Ontario)
  7. Nyssa talamancana Hammel & N.Zamora - (Panama, Costa Rica)
  8. Nyssa ursina
  9. Nyssa yunnanensis W.C.Yin Yunnan tupelo (Yunnan)


Tupelo wood is used extensively by artistic woodcarvers, especially for carving ducks and other wildfowl.[9] It power carves excellently and holds good detail in the end grain. In commerce, it is used for shipping containers and interior parts of furniture, and is used extensively in the veneer and panel industry for crossbanding, plywood cores, and backs.[10][11] The wood can be readily pulped and is used for high-grade book and magazine papers.[12] In the past, the hollow trunks were used as "bee gums" to hold beehives.[13]

Tupelos are popular ornamental trees for their mature form, shade, and spectacular Autumn leaf colors.

Tupelos are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including Endoclita damor.

The Ogeechee Tupelo, sometimes referred to as the Ocheechee Lime, which is native to Georgia and north Florida produces an edible fruit in the form of a sour, oblong drupe.[14]


Tupelos of the species Nyssa ogeche are valued as honey plants in the southeastern United States, particularly in the Gulf Coast region.[15] They produce a very light, mild-tasting honey. In Florida, beekeepers keep beehives along the river swamps on platforms or floats during tupelo bloom to produce certified tupelo honey, which commands a high price on the market because of its flavor.[15] Monofloral honey made from the nectar of Nyssa ogeche has such a high ratio of fructose to glucose that it does not crystallize.[16]

The Apalachicola River in the Florida Panhandle is the center for tupelo honey. The honey is produced wherever tupelo trees (three species) bloom in southeastern USA, but the purest and most expensive version (which is certified by pollen analysis) is produced in this valley. In a good harvest year, the tupelo honey crop produced by a group of specialized Florida beekeepers has a value approaching $1,000,000.[17]

Fossil record

Fruits conforming morphologically and anatomically to Nyssa have been identified from the Campanian of Alberta, Canada. The fruits conform to a kind that is common in the Paleogene, formerly called Palaeonyssa.[18]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Nyssa". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Nyssa". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSP). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  3. Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  4. 1 2 "Nyssa ". Flora of China. Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved 19 February 2016 via eFloras.org.
  5. 1 2 "Nyssa". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  6. "Nyssa". Gardening in the Coastal Southeast. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  7. Werthner, William B. (1935). Some American Trees: An intimate study of native Ohio trees. New York: The Macmillan Company. pp. xviii + 398 pp.
  8. New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition.
  9. Quintana, Michael G. Andreu, Melissa H. Friedman, Mary McKenzie, and Heather V. (2013-07-29). "Nyssa aquatica, Water Tupelo". edis.ifas.ufl.edu. Retrieved 2016-02-21.
  10. "Black Gum and Tupelo" (PDF). Purdue Extension. Hardwood Lumber and Veneer Series. Purdue University. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  11. Hounshell, David (1985-09-01). From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States. JHU Press. ISBN 9780801831584.
  12. Paper Trade Journal. Lockwood Trade Journal Company. 1911.
  13. Crane, Ethel Eva (2013). The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting. Routledge. p. 305.
  14. Boning, Charles (2006). Florida's Best Fruiting Plants: Native and Exotic Trees, Shrubs, and Vines. Sarasota, Florida: Pineapple Press, Inc. pp. 158–159.
  15. 1 2 "Tupelo". www.honey.com. National Honey Board. Retrieved February 21, 2016.
  16. "Liquid Gold". Garden & Gun. Retrieved 2016-02-21.
  17. Largo, Michael (2014). The Big, Bad Book of Botany: The World's Most Fascinating Flora. HarperCollins.
  18. Assessing the Fossil Record of Asterids in the Context of Our Current Phylogenetic Framework by Steven R. Manchester, Friðgeir Grímsson, and Reinhard Zetter, Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden Aug 2015 : Vol. 100, Issue 4, pg(s) 329-363 doi: 10.3417/2014033
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