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A deciduous tree occasionally 100 ft high in the wild, with a trunk up to 5 ft in thickness and a furrowed bark. Leaves of variable shape, but oftenest obovate or oval, with a tapering base, 3 to 6 in. long, 11⁄2 to 3 in. wide, entire, usually perfectly glabrous in this country except on the young stalks and midrib, which are slightly hairy; stalk 1⁄2 to 1 in. long, frequently reddish. Flowers appearing in June, males and females on separate heads, 1⁄2 in. or less across, greenish, produced on a slender downy stalk about 1 in. long in the axils of the scales or lowermost leaves of the young shoots; male flowers numerous, female ones usually two to four in a head; they have no beauty. Fruits usually in pairs, each one 1⁄3 to 2⁄3 in. long, egg-shaped, bluish black.
Native of eastern N. America, chiefly found in swamps and ill-drained land; introduced some time in the first half of the 18th century. It was, until lately, quite scarce in cultivation, and few trees of any size exist in Britain. But Arthur Soames of Sheffield Park raised some four hundred plants from seed, many of which are now scattered about the grounds, vigorous and healthy. There is a curious diversity in the leaves of this species, not only in shape, but in lustre. Of two healthy trees at Kew growing within a few yards of each other, one has dull-surfaced leaves, the other has larger shining ones. The chief value of the tupelo in gardens, over and above its great interest, is the brilliant red and yellow of its autumnal foliage. Like many other American trees growing in wet situations at home, it thrives best in ordinary good loam when transplanted to our gloomier climate.
Loudon mentioned a tupelo in the Duke of Wellington’s grounds at Stratfield Saye, Hants, 30 ft high (Arb. et Frut. Brit. (1838), Vol. 3, p. 1317). This tree measured 74 × 51⁄2 ft in 1897 and was the only specimen of great size known to Elwes (Tr. Gr. Brit. & Irel., Vol. 3, p. 511 and plate 145). Still by far the largest in Britain, it now measures 80 × 71⁄2 ft (1968). The tree at Munden, Watford, which Elwes also mentions, is only 20 ft high, having lost its leader some time in the last century, but has a huge spread and is 61⁄4 ft in girth (1968). The largest example at Kew is 55 × 51⁄4 ft (1967). Of the many fine trees at Sheffield Park, mentioned above, one, planted in 1909, measures 48 × 33⁄4 ft (1968). At Chatsworth, Derb., the larger of two specimens measures 65 × 63⁄4 ft (1971).
specimens: Kew, 52 × 53⁄4 ft (1978); Wakehurst Place, Sussex, 58 × 43⁄4 ft (1984); Sheffield Park, Sussex, pl. 1909, 82 × 6 ft and 69 × 51⁄2 ft (1986); Borde Hill, Sussex, Little Bentley Wood, 72 × 4 ft (1984); Bicton, Devon, 56 × 61⁄2 ft (1983); Chatsworth, Derbys., the larger of two 65 × 63⁄4 ft (1971).
The famous tree at Stratfield Saye, Hampshire, mentioned in the third paragraph on page 23, was blown down in 1981.
cv. ‘Sheffield Park’. – The original tree of this clone colours some two weeks earlier than others in the Sheffield Park plantings, and is rather more erect in habit.
This species was described by Bean (B23, S348) and Krüssmann (K329).
N. biflora Walt. Swamp Tupelo
N. ursina Small
This diminutive segregate of the well-known and beautiful Nyssa sylvatica is probably no more than a collector’s curiosity. It is ignored by American authors (Dirr 1998, Sternberg 2004), and even Andrews in her comprehensive review (2001) could find no evidence of it in cultivation. The only specimen located in the research for New Trees is at the JC Raulston Arboretum, planted in 2002. As this individual is now about 4 m tall it is perhaps not so dwarf after all, but it has an open growth habit and small leaves. It seems to cope well with the currently prevailing severe drought in North Carolina, despite being sited in a dry position (D. Werner, pers. comm. 2007).