Common Names: Tupelo, black tupelo, black gum, sour gum, beetlebung
A medium-sized deciduous tree native to eastern North America. Despite the common name, no part of the plant is particularly gummy. It grows to 20 to 25 m tall, rarely to 35 m, with a trunk diameter of 50 to 100 cm, rarely up to 170 cm. These trees typically have a straight trunk with the branches extending outward at right angles. The bark is dark gray and flaky when young, but it becomes furrowed with age, resembling alligator hide on very old stems. The twigs of this tree are reddish-brown, usually hidden by a greyish skin. The pith is chambered with greenish partitions.
The leaves of this species are variable in size and shape. They can be oval, elliptical, or obovate, and 5 to 12 cm long. They have lustrous upper surfaces, with entire, often wavy margins. The foliage turns purple in autumn, eventually becoming an intense bright scarlet.
The flowers are very small, in greenish-white in clusters at the top of a long stalk and a rich source or nectar for bees. They are often dioecious so a male and female tree in proximity is required to set seed, however, many trees are also polygamo-dioecious, which means they have both male and female flowers on the same tree. The fruit is a black-blue, ovoid stone fruit, about 10 mm long with a thin, oily, bitter-to-sour tasting flesh and very popular with small bird species. There are from one to three fruits together on a long slender stalk.