Tupelo or sour gum is a striking pyramidal tree in its youth with horizontal branches growing from a typically straight trunk. As the tree matures it takes on more of an irregular habit. The dark green glossy summer foliage takes center stage in fall when the leaves turn bright scarlet.
- Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- Chicago area
- North America
- Zone 4
- Zone 5
- Zone 6
- Zone 7
- Zone 8
- Zone 9
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
- Partial sun (4-6 hrs light daily)
- Dry sites
- Occasional drought
- Wet sites
- Clay soil
- Road salt
- Acid soil
- Moist, well-drained soil
- Large tree (more than 40 feet)
- Medium tree (25-40 feet)
- Late spring
- Early fall
- Mid fall
photo: John HagstromSize & form
A large deciduous tree reaching 30 to 50 feet high and 20 to 30 feet wide
Pyramidal in youth maturing to a flat-topped crown with distinct horizontal branches sometimes pendulous
Slow growth with adequate moisture
Tree & Plant Care
Prefers moist, well-drained, acidic soils high in organic matter. Best in full sun.
Tolerates poorly-drained soils and can grow in standing water.
Tree has a taproot, making it difficult to transplant, spring plant only.
Prune in late fall or during dormant season.
Disease, pests, and problems
Can develop chlorotic (yellowing) leaves in high pH soils
Cankers and leaf spots.
Disease, pest, and problem resistance
Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.
Native geographic location and habitat
Native to eastern North America from New England and southern Ontario south to central Florida and eastern Texas, as well as Mexico.
Found naturally growing on or above stream and ravine banks.
Attracts birds & butterflies
Early fall fruit is a favorite of migrating song birds.
Although flowers are not showy, they are an excellent nectar source for bees.
Bark color and texture
Distinct horizontal branching, mature bark has thick blocky ridges, similar to alligator skin.
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture
Alternate, dense leathery leaves are up to 5 inches long, dark green and elliptical in shape with smooth margins.
Flower arrangement, shape, and size
Dioecious (separate male and female trees), but sometimes each tree has some perfect flowers. Female trees need a male tree for pollination.
Small, greenish-white flowers appear on long stalks the same time leaves are emerging.
Female flowers in sparse clusters and male flowers in dense heads.
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions
Small, 1/2 inch, dark purple oval fruits (drupes) appears on female trees only.They are quite sour, hence the name.
Fruit ripens ripens in late September as leaves are changing color.