Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Fall colors come slowly to DC. While I read reports of beautiful foliage in New England or the Blue Ridge, fall foliage takes longer to materialize in the places that I usually visit. There are a few exceptions, such as dogwoods and tulip poplars.

During my autumn walks in the Arboretum I have come to appreciate the beauty of tupelo trees. While other trees are still green, the tupelos at the Arboretum have already turned mostly red. If last year is any indication, I can look forward to seeing their brilliant red foliage for the next couple weeks, as they seem to hold their colorful leaves after turning.

The tupelos at the Arboretum appear to be the species Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica). You may also know this species by one of its other names, such as blackgum, sourgum, or pepperidge. The species grows best in moist soils at lower elevations, though it can easily adapt to many sites. A range map is at right. Tupelo leaves are oval in shape and untoothed. Glossy green in summer, the leaves turn a bright purplish-red in the fall. Its branches bear small, dark blue fruits. The fruits are consumed by many bird species, some of which may also use its natural cavities for nesting. (That, combined with the beautiful foliage, puts the tupelo onto lists of recommended native species for planting.)

However you wish to call this species, the trees themselves are unmistakable. Several invidual trees at the Arboretum stand out from the rest for their massive size and bright red color. In the past I have felt that their color looked almost artificial from a distance. Two trees in particular stand out: one near the entrance to the Azalea Garden, and another at the top of the same hill. Both have majestic height and shade cover that is emphasized by their green surroundings. I look forward to seeing more of these tupelos in the coming weeks.

All photographs by the author. Crossposted at Blue Ridge Gazette.