Swamp Tupelo Info: Learn About Swamp Tupelo Trees In Landscapes

Swamp Tupelo Info: Learn About Swamp Tupelo Trees In Landscapes

By: Teo Spengler

You are not likely to start growing swamp tupelo trees unless you live in an area with wet soil. Read on for information about swamp tupelo tree and swamp tupelo care.

What is a Swamp Tupelo?

Unless you live on the country’s southeast coastal area, you may never have seen a swamp tupelo (Cornaceae Nyssa biflora), let alone heard of it. These are trees that thrive in wet bottomland soils.

If you are considering growing swamp tupelo trees, you’ll need to take heed of the following swamp tupelo information: these trees grow in the wild in mucky areas, heavy clay soil or wet sands – not your average landscape tree.

Swamp Tupelo Growing Conditions

They grow best where the soil is always wet from shallow moving water. Good sites include swamp banks, estuaries and low coves that are saturated all year long. Even with excellent swamp tupelo care, you won’t be able to grow these trees in dry soil. In fact, you’ll find most swamp tupelo in the swamps and estuaries of the Coastal Plain. This includes parts of Maryland, Virginia, Florida and Tennessee.

Swamp tupelo information tells us that it is a tree that can soar to over 100 feet (30 m.) in height and swell out to 4 feet (1.2 m.) in diameter. The shape of the tree is unusual. Its crown is a narrow oval and the tan colored bark has vertical furrows. The tree’s roots spread out on all sides of the tree, and they produce sprouts that can turn into new trees.

If you like this unusual tree, you may want information on how to grow a swamp tupelo and that begins with finding an appropriate placement in your yard. A wet site is of utmost importance, but a sunny site is also essential. Swamp tupelos are said to be intolerant of shade. However, unless your property consists of swampy conditions and plenty of space, this isn’t likely something to add to the landscape.

That said, this is a great tree for wildlife. According to swamp tupelo information, white-tailed deer love to eat the tree’s new growth and leaves, and many birds and mammals munch its nutritious fruits. Other mammals that find nurture in swamp tupelo trees include bears, raccoons and wild turkey. Birds also nest in the swamp tupelo. In addition, the flowers provide nectar for bees. So if you are already fortunate to have one of these towering trees in the landscape, keep them around for the wildlife to enjoy.

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Nyssa aquatica

Previously known as:

Nyssa aquatica, or Water Tupelo, is a native, large, long-lived deciduous tree in the tupelo genus that inhabits deep river or coastal swamps in the Southeastern United States that are usually flooded most of the year. It has a swollen base, large hanging fruit, and brittle twigs that distinguish it from the Blackgum. Water Tupelo has a long, straight trunk, narrow, open crown of spreading branches, and large, shiny leaves. In a forested stand, the trunk is often long, but somewhat crooked, above its buttressed base. It is very symmetrical and pyramid-shaped in its early years but develops an irregular form with age.

It grows well in medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade and prefers moist, acidic soils. It tolerates poorly-drained soils and can grow in standing water. A long taproot makes it difficult to transplant. It is rarely used in the home landscape. Often reaching heights of 100' with a trunk diameter of 3 to 4 feet, it is mostly dioecious and male plants are helpful to get a female fruit set. This plant has a beautiful yellow fall color.

Diseases, Insects, and Other Plant Problems:

Fire is a major enemy of Water Tupelo. It scorches the thin bark, allowing entrance of rot-causing fungi. The forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria) is a serious enemy in some years and locations. This tree is heat tolerant.

Nyssa aquatica Form Jim Robbins CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Flower and Stem Detail Jim Robbins CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Bark Jim Robbins CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Leaves Jim Robbins CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Without Leaves Form Jim Robbins CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The Natural Communities of Virginia Classification of Ecological Groups and Community Types

Information current as of March 2021

Table of Contents

  • Natural Communities of VA
    Classification of Ecological Groups and Community Types
  • Introduction
    • Why Classify Communities?
    • What is an Ecological Community?
    • Methods and Data Sources
    • Structure of the Virginia Natural Community Classification
    • Future Directions and Feedback
    • Acknowledgments
    • Format of Descriptions
  • Overview of VA Physiography & Vegetation
  • Terrestrial System
    • High-Elevation Forests, Grasslands, and Rock Outcrops
      • Spruce and Fir Forests
      • Southern Appalachian Shrub and Grass Balds
      • Northern Hardwood Forests
      • High-Elevation Boulderfield Forests and Woodlands
      • High-Elevation Cove Forests
      • Northern Red Oak Forests
      • High-Elevation Outcrop Barrens
    • Low-Elevation Mesic Forests
      • Rich Cove Forests
      • Basic Mesic Forests
      • Acidic Cove Forests
      • Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forests
      • Eastern Hemlock - Hardwood Forests
    • Low-Elevation Dry and Dry-Mesic Forests
      • Montane Dry and Dry-Mesic Calcareous Forests
      • Coastal Plain Dry Calcareous Forests
      • Basic Oak - Hickory Forests
      • Acidic Oak - Hickory Forests
      • Montane Mixed Oak and Oak - Hickory Forests
      • Oak / Heath Forests
      • Eastern White Pine - Hardwood Forests
      • Coastal Plain / Piedmont Oak - Beech / Heath Forests
      • Carolina Hemlock Forests
      • Piedmont Hardpan Forests
      • Low-Elevation Boulderfield Forests
    • Low-Elevation Woodlands, Barrens, and Rock Outcrops
      • Pine - Oak / Heath Woodlands
      • Mountain / Piedmont Acidic Woodlands
      • Mountain / Piedmont Basic Woodlands
      • Central Appalachian Shale Barrens
      • Limestone / Dolostone Woodlands and Barrens
      • Ultramafic Woodlands and Barrens
      • Low-Elevation Outcrop Barrens
      • Piedmont Granitic Flatrocks
      • Piedmont Oak - Hickory Woodlands, Savannas, and Grasslands
      • Riverside Outcrop Barrens
      • Mountain / Piedmont Cliffs
      • Lichen / Bryophyte Nonvascular Cliffs and Boulderfields
    • Maritime Zone Communities
      • Maritime Dune Grasslands
      • Maritime Dune Scrub
      • Maritime Dune Woodlands
      • Maritime Upland Forests
    • Sandy Woodlands of the Coastal Plain and Outer Piedmont
      • Sandhill and Fluvial Terrace Woodlands
  • Palustrine System
    • Alluvial Floodplain Communities
      • Bald Cypress - Tupelo Swamps
      • Coastal Plain / Piedmont Bottomland Forests
      • Floodplain Ponds and Pools
      • Semipermanent Impoundments
      • Piedmont / Mountain Floodplain Forests and Swamps
      • Piedmont / Mountain Small-Stream Alluvial Forests
      • Sand / Gravel / Mud Bars and Shores
      • Rocky Bars and Shores
      • Riverside Prairies
    • Non-Alluvial Wetlands of the Mountains
      • Montane Depression Swamps and Ponds
      • Mountain / Piedmont Seepage Swamps
      • Montane Woodland Seeps
      • Appalachian Bogs
      • Calcareous Fens and Spring Marshes
      • Mafic Fens and Seeps
      • Spray Cliffs
      • Inland Salt Marshes
    • Non-Alluvial Wetlands of the Coastal Plain & Piedmont
      • Coastal Plain Depression Swamps and Ponds
      • Non-Riverine Flatwoods and Swamps
      • Coastal Plain / Piedmont Seepage Swamps
      • Coastal Plain / Piedmont Seepage Bogs
      • Piedmont Upland Depression Swamps
    • Saturated Peatlands of the Coastal Plain
      • Pond Pine Woodlands and Pocosins
      • Peatland Atlantic White-Cedar Forests
    • Non-Tidal Maritime Wetlands
      • Sea-Level Fens
      • Interdune Swales and Ponds
      • Maritime Swamps
  • Riverine System
    • Riverine Aquatic Beds
  • Estuarine System
    • Tidal Wetlands
      • Tidal Freshwater Marshes
      • Tidal Oligohaline Marshes
      • Wind-Tidal Oligohaline Marshes
      • Tidal Mesohaline and Polyhaline Marshes
      • Tidal Shrub Swamps
      • Tidal Swamp Forests and Woodlands
      • Tidal Freshwater and Oligohaline Aquatic Beds
      • Tidal Mesohaline and Polyhaline Aquatic Beds
      • High-Energy Tidal River Shores
      • Salt Flats
      • Salt Scrub
  • Marine System
    • Upper Beaches and Overwash Flats
  • Summary of Procedures for Collection & Analysis of Vegetation Data
  • Glossary
  • Literature
  • How to Cite this Document

Bald Cypress - Tupelo Swamps

Forests in this group occupy seasonally to semipermanently flooded backswamps, sloughs, and poorly drained first bottoms of Coastal Plain rivers and streams. These swamp forests occur throughout the Coastal Plain from Delaware south to Florida and west to eastern Texas, and in the Mississippi River embayment north to Kentucky and Indiana. They are generally distributed throughout southeastern Virginia, north to Dragon Swamp (Gloucester, King and Queen, and Middlesex Counties), with small-stream swamp tupelo (Nyssa biflora) swamps extending north on the outer Coastal Plain into Maryland. Habitats are deeply flooded (up to 1.3 m) for part of the year many retain at least some standing water throughout the growing season. Microtopography is often pronounced with small channels, swales, tree-base hummocks, and numerous bald cypress "knees." Overstory composition varies from mixed stands of bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica), and/or swamp tupelo (Nyssa biflora) to nearly pure stands of one species or another. The three dominants have complex competitive and successional relationships. As a rule, the two tupelos are less shade-tolerant than bald cypress and regenerate more readily by sprouting in cut-over stands. Thus, tupelos tend to become dominant when bald cypress stands are heavily logged. In addition, swamp tupelo appears to be most abundant in organic swamp soils, while water tupelo appears to prefer mineral soils with high silt content.

Stands dominated primarily or exclusively by swamp tupelo typically occur in the most acidic soils with highest organic content, usually in the smaller swamps along headwater streams. In deep silty sloughs and backswamps along brownwater rivers, mixtures of bald cypress and water tupelo, or pure stands of water tupelo, are characteristic. Stands of intermediate composition, containing variable mixtures of all three overstory dominants, are widespread throughout the range of the group in Virginia. .

Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), overcup oak (Quercus lyrata), American elm (Ulmus americana), and red maple (Acer rubrum) are occasional overstory associates and frequent understory trees swamp cottonwood (Populus heterophylla) is also an occasional overstory associate and often abundant in disturbed or cut-over stands. Carolina ash (Fraxinus caroliniana) is often dominant in the small tree and shrub layers, while vines of climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea barbara) and coral greenbrier (Smilax walteri) are often abundant.

Herb layers vary from sparse to seasonally lush. Most herbaceous plants of bald cypress-tupelo swamps are tolerant of muck soils and fluctuating water levels, or are capable of becoming established on tree hummocks, stumps, and logs. A few of the typical herbs are lizard's-tail (Saururus cernuus), false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), greater marsh St. John's-wort (Triadenum walteri), small beggar-ticks (Bidens discoidea), weak stellate sedge (Carex seorsa), giant sedge (Carex gigantea), taper-leaf water horehound (Lycopus rubellus), catchfly cutgrass (Leersia lenticularis), and pale mannagrass (Torreyochloa pallida var. pallida). Draw-down zones may support large populations of false pimpernel (Lindernia dubia var. dubia), camphorweed (Pluchea camphorata), water paspalum (Paspalum fluitans), Carolina doll's-daisy (Boltonia caroliniana), and other fast-growing herbs.

This group differs from Coastal Plain / Piedmont Swamp Forests in the clear dominance or co-dominance of bald cypress and tupelos (vs. dominance of mixed hardwoods) and apparently by longer hydroperiods and more deeply flooded habitats. It is distinguished from Non-Riverine Swamp Forests, which may also be dominated by bald cypress and tupelos, by habitat (floodplains vs. non-riverine peatlands) and lower-strata floristics. Although community types in this group are relatively common in southeastern Virginia, high-quality examples are scarce and all stands provide valuable wildlife habitat and resources. Mature, hollow specimens of the dominant trees are known to provide nesting habitats for the globally uncommon, state-rare eastern big-eared bat (Corynorhinus rafinesquii macrotis) and southeastern myotis (Myotis austroriparius). Old-growth stands of bald cypress-dominated swamp with trees exceeding 800 years old and DBH up to 3.5 m (12 ft.) occur along the Blackwater River in Isle of Wight, Southampton and Surry Counties, and along the Nottoway River in Southampton County.

References: Fleming and Moorhead (1998), Parker and Wyatt (1975), Plunkett and Hall (1995).

Click here for more photos of this ecological community group.

© DCR-DNH, Gary P. Fleming.

Download a spreadsheet of compositional summary statistics for each of the community types listed below.

    Taxodium distichum- Nyssa aquatica -Fraxinus caroliniana Forest
    Bald Cypress - Water Tupelo Brownwater Swamp
    USNVC: = CEGL007431
    Global/State Ranks: G5?/S4

Taxodium distichum - Nyssa (biflora, aquatica) / Itea virginica / Saururus cernuus Forest
Bald Cypress - Mixed Tupelo Intermediate Swamp
USNVC: = CEGL007432
Global/State Ranks: G3G4/S3S4

  • Nyssa biflora - (Taxodium distichum) / Clethra alnifolia - Viburnum nudum / Lorinseria areolata Forest
    Coastal Plain Swamp Tupelo Blackwater Swamp
    USNVC: = CEGL007054
    Global/State Ranks: G3/S3?
  • back to top of pagenext Ecological Group


    Savannah Bee Company Home

    The Savannah Bee Tupelo Honey Family.

    Tupelo honey is our all-time best-selling honey varietal. Not only is it everyone's favorite, but Savannah Bee is a company and a brand that owes its success to the legendary reputation of Tupelo honey. Although Tupelo honey does have some powerful rivals within our product-line like Sourwood honey, Raw Honeycomb, Royal Jelly Body Butter, and Beeswax Hand Cream, Tupelo honey remains the Queen of the Honey World and the heart and soul of the Savannah Bee Company. What is it about Tupelo honey that makes it so special that we sell completely out year after year? Perhaps more importantly, what is it about Savannah Bee Tupelo honey that is so extraordinary? To understand the legend of Tupelo honey, you must first look at its production region. Secondly, you must listen to the story that Ted Dennard has been spinning for years as he made it his mission to share this Southern Gold with the world

    Tupelo hives on the edge of the Cypress swamp.

    Tupelo honey is not just a southern honey, it is only produced in two tiny regions of the Southeastern United States, the Okeefenokee Wildlife Refuge on the Georgia-Florida line and the Apalachicola River basin right in the crook of Florida where the peninsula becomes the panhandle. Both of these areas are classified as Southern Cypress Swamp. In fact, locals often refer to Tupelo honey as Swamp honey.

    What we refer to as the Tupelo tree is actually the White Tupelo tree (Nyssa ogechee), also known as the Ogechee Lime tree or the White Gum Tupelo. Although the Tupelo tree does grow outside these two regions, the Southern Cypress swamp is the only ecosystem that supports large stands of these trees. As a result, 100% pure raw Tupelo honey is very rare.

    Not only is Tupelo honey rare but it has a great narrative packed full of celebrity and lore. Despite the fact that Tupelo honey has been harvested in Georgia and Florida for centuries, it was relatively unknown regional delicacy until 1971 when singer-songwriter Van Morrison released his album Tupelo Honey which reached number 27 on the Billboard charts that year. As a result, the name and brand of Tupelo honey now reached a national audience.

    Even though Tupelo now had national name recognition, the honey was still very much a niche product. In 1996, Tupelo honey once again claimed the media spotlight with the release of the major motion picture Ulee's Gold starring Peter Fonda. In 1997, Ulee's Gold was the "Centerpiece Premier" at the Sundance Film Festival. In addition, Fonda won a Golden Globe for his performance in the film.

    Ted Dennard working his Tupelo hives.

    Interestingly, just about the same time Ulee's Gold hit the box office, Ted Dennard (founder of Savannah Bee) began his quest to introduce as many people as possible to the world's finest honey, Tupelo honey. You see, Ted grew up eating and producing Tupelo honey right here in Georgia. As you travel around a little sampling honey varieties from region to region, you quickly realize that there is no honey that compares to Tupelo honey. Tupelo honey has a color, texture, and flavor that is absolutely unmatched. Sure, there are other outstanding honey varieties but Tupelo really is something special. All you have to do is try pure Tupelo honey and you will know that it really is something special! In fact, Ted has introduced so many people across the nation to Tupelo honey that he has created a strong national demand for the product to the extent that supply has become a real issue. It wasn't too many years ago that Savannah Bee could acquire all the Tupelo honey we desired from our network of beekeepers. Today, Tupelo honey buyers come from all over the country in an attempt to secure as much of this precious honey as possible. As with any demand outpacing supply scenario, the price of Tupelo honey has soared, reaching all-time highs.

    It's not just the flavor and texture of Tupelo honey that makes it unique, but also the very chemical composition of the honey. All honey varieties contain the sugars fructose and glucose. These compounds are used by our bodies as a primary energy source. Tupelo honey has an unusually high fructose to glucose ratio. This quality allows the body to release the energy contained in the sugar molecules over a longer period of time and significantly reduces the feeling of a "crash" that is often associated with sucrose, also known as white or refined sugar. In addition, this unique sugar ratio dramatically slows down the crystallization process. All honey varieties will eventually crystalize given enough time. Honey varieties with higher glucose content tend to crystallize more quickly than those with a lower glucose content. We have a jar of Tupelo honey here in the Savannah Bee office that is over 10 years old and shows absolutely no signs of crystallization!

    The Tupelo honey production regions.

    So now it's Tupelo season again and I have heard mixed reviews about this year's harvest. Reviews from the Okefenokee region are positive and it looks like some great Tupelo honey has been produced. However, the reports from the Apalachicola region are not as promising. It looks like some high-quality Tupelo has been produced, just not very much of it. After a couple of low Tupelo honey production years, we sure would like to see a bumper crop this year but it is impossible to know the spoils of the season until we get the honey back here into our production facility.

    The delicate and subtly beautiful Tupelo flower.

    The story of Tupelo honey swirls with legend, lore, pop music, and big screen theatrics. It is a sweet, golden substance produced during a 3-week spring bloom in the dark Southern swamps. Beekeepers have to float their hives out on barges into alligator infested waters just to get their bees in the position to collect this glorious nectar. If it's too dry or windy, the nectar evaporates. If it's too cold or rainy, the bees won't fly. In fact, everything has to be just right to produce the Southern Gold.

    Soon we will have the 2018 Tupelo honey in our warehouse and shortly after we will be filling our elegant flute bottles. You can be sure that we will offer the very best Tupelo honey available this year. No one can beat Savannah Bee Tupelo honey, always 100% pure. We will let you all know as soon as it is available, so please stay tuned and get ready for some of the best honey you have ever tried!


    Species Occurrence

    While a large number of hardwood species occur on floodplain sites, only a few are considered desirable for timber production. Table 1 shows desirable timber trees by site type. The table is not a complete listing of all species, but species listed are considered to be the most appropriate for those sites.

    There are other wet sites that support hardwood growth but are not associated with stream floodplains. Sites such as coastal and muck swamps often grow hardwoods due to their lack of suitability for pine species. Generally, these sites are not as productive as floodplains, and hardwoods growing there, usually baldcypress and water tupelo, are of low quality.

    Minor stream bottoms are just smaller versions of major river bottoms. They have the same physical features, and most of the same species can be found on these sites. Species that occur only on ridge positions in major river bottoms often occur on flats in minor bottoms. River birch is the most common pioneer species on new land such as bars and mud flats. Many different types of trees grow on fronts and may include yellow poplar, American beech, sycamore, spruce pine, sweetgum, cherrybark oak, Shumard oak, water oak, swamp chestnut oak, and several species of hickory.

    Although flooding still occurs, other natural forces usually control succession and species on these sites. Typical species growing on well-drained flats and ridges of minor bottoms include sweetgum, cherrybark oak, water oak, swamp chestnut oak, American elm, and hickories. On less well-drained flats, the major species include overcup oak, willow oak, Nuttall oak, swamp laurel oak, persimmon, green ash, sugarberry, and red maple. Tree species growing in sloughs of minor bottoms will vary depending on the duration of flooding. Cypress, swamp tupelo, water tupelo, and water elm are most commonly found where flooding is extended. Overcup oak, water hickory, and persimmon will also occur where flooding is not as severe.

    Table 1. Site suitability by topographic position of major river bottoms and minor stream bottoms.


    Watch the video: How do Tupelo Trees and Crawfish Help Apalachicola Bay?