Small tree or large shrub 5–8(–28) m (US champion 1.5 m dbh, Apalichicola National Forest, Florida, whose base is said by Sternberg (2004) to resemble ‘a giant cottonmouth [snake] that has swallowed a family of beavers’); producing several main stems from a swollen base. Branchlets green. Leaves deciduous, green, turning orange, purple, red and yellow in autumn; 8–18 × 3–8 cm, widely lanceolate to ovate, upper surface glabrous, lower surface pubescent, margins entire, often recurved, apex rounded to acute; petiole 0.5–1.5 cm long. Male inflorescences racemose to spicate to capitate or umbellate; female inflorescences solitary, sessile, peduncle 0.5–2 cm long; flowers occasionally bear stamens. Drupes oblong, dull yellow to olive-brown to orange-red, 2–4 cm long. Burckhalter 1992, Andrews 2001. Distribution USA: northern Florida, southeast Georgia, South Carolina (Beaufort Co. only). Habitat Sandy-bottom swamps, bogs and along riverbanks. USDA Hardiness Zone 7–8. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Elias 1980. Cross-references B22, K329.
In considering the cultivation of Nyssa ogeche it is important to remember that it comes from the swampy coastline of the southeastern United States, where mean temperatures remain over 20 °C at all times from May through September, often rising very much higher (July mean temperature 27.8 °C) (National Climatic Data Center 2007), and humidity is correspondingly high. In the light of this it is not surprising that it has never become established in northern Europe, despite persistent attempts (see Bean 1976b, Andrews 2001) – with the exception of one specimen reported from L’Arboretum de Balaine, near Villeneuve-sur-Allier in central France (Andrews 2001). Even in the United States reports are mixed (Dirr 1998); where it grows in the southeast (not necessarily in swamp conditions) it is said to form low, rounded trees, covered in dark green glossy leaves that do not usually produce good autumn colours. The flowers, though insignificant, are an important food source for bees, and good honey is made from tupelo nectar (Dirr 1998). The flowers are followed by juicy, sour fruits that can be used in cookery, hence the vernacular name Ogeechee Lime. It will survive on the East Coast at least as far north as Pennsylvania (Andrews 2001).