Page 8 - September 28, 2022
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{ 8 }  SNJ Today  |  SEPTEMBER 28, 2022                                                                                                                                                                                                                    SEPTEMBER 28, 2022  |  { 9 }

                        Our Native Gum
                        Our Native Gum

       Blackgum begins its colorful display in early autumn, shifting from yellow to orange
                to bright red and scarlet along the banks of our coastal plain rivers.

 NATURE AROUND US                                                      by J. Morton Galetto, CU Maurice River

    t was while taking carving lessons
    with Vernon Smith over 30 years
 Iago that I first became familiar with
 tupelo. We were carving fancy birds as
 opposed to smooth decoys. The choices
 of wood for our class were basswood or
 tupelo. Many competitive carvers, includ-
 ing world champions, use tupelo, which
 can be worked with hand tools or power
 tools. It is lightweight and sands to a
 smooth finish, allowing it to take the fine
 details of burning-in individual feathers.
 It permits greater detail than basswood
 and is less likely to fuzz up. Wisely,
 Vernon would cut us a blank on a band
 saw and then we could begin to rough out
 the birds ourselves. Most of our carving
 tools were rather benign with the excep-
 tion of knives, but a band saw can remove
 not just wood but also digits. I thank
 Vernon for his judgement!
   At the time I wasn’t aware that tupelo,
 blackgum, pepperidge, and sour gum are   Blackgum trees, reflected here in Buckshutem Creek, a tributary of the Maurice River, displays a deep magenta shade as fall progresses.
 all of the same genus—Nyssa. However,   INSET: Nyssa sylvatica—blackgum leaves are obovate, narrower at the end with the stem. The edges are very slightly serrated. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR
 carvers always call the wood tupelo and
 the species they use is Nyssa aquatica, or   wetlands and water corridors, growing   In the southeast beehives are often   and unpleasant. They are edible but not
 water tupelo, a southeastern species.   commonly in creek bottoms of the south-  placed near Ogeechee or white tupelo   desirable. If you were forced to forage for
   There are about 10 different Nyssa   ern coastal plains. In New Jersey they are   trees, Nyssa ogeche, and thus the bees   survival they would be an option, but for
 species worldwide. The one common to   found in flood plains, swamps, and bogs,   produce the prized tupelo honey, which   those who choose to eat them willingly
 New Jersey is Nyssa sylvatica—blackgum   making them one of the vegetative spe-  is very mild and light. White tupelo trees   they are normally offered in a heavily sug-
 or black tupelo. Most New Jersey forest-  cies used in part to delineate wetlands.   are most abundant in Georgia and Florida   ared jam or jelly preserve.
 ers defer to the common name black-  The Creek tribal word for tree is ito and   wetlands. The honey from tupelo report-  In regard to medical uses the bark pro-
 gum. Its range is primarily east of the   opilwa is swamp; colonists anglicized this   edly has an unusually high fructose to   duces vomiting, while ooze from the roots
 Mississippi River to the Atlantic coast.   into “tupelo.”                glucose ratio, and therefore the sugar   has been used in eyedrops and for killing
   Why gum? In Trees of New Jersey and   Aside from its use in carving, Nyssa   molecules release over a longer time. The   worms in children.
 the Mid-Atlantic, Christopher T. Martine   is also selected for unseen parts in furni-  growers contend that this reduces the   It is timely that we are speaking about
 comments: “There is no clear reason why   ture, plywood, pulp, railroad ties, boxes,   “crash” more commonly associated with   blackgum. We are one week into fall and
 we call Nyssa sylvatica blackgum, since it   crates, tool handles, conveyor rollers, and   refined sugars.    the first tree to display autumn color is
 does not exude any gum-like substance.   pallets. Its pulp makes high grade book   Tupelo honey also provided a meta-  Nyssa sylvatica—and it is magnificent.
 The sweetgum does produce gum, but not   and magazine paper. Tupelo trees often   phor for musical artist Van Morrison,   The display is dramatic, shifting from yel-
 the kind used commercially for chewing.   become hollow with age and historically   who used it to compare his marriage   low, to orange, to bright red and scarlet,
 That comes mainly from the sapodilla   beekeepers took advantage of this aspect,   and the love for his wife in the lyrics of   and making the banks of coastal plain riv-
 plant, which produces gum called chicle.   cutting a log from the trunk, placing a cap   “Tupelo Honey”: “She’s as sweet as tupe-  ers an ever-changing pageant of color. In
 Chicle is one of the main ingredients in   on one end and a roof on the other, and   lo honey. Just like honey from the bee.”  fact it is unusual to read a description of
 chewing gum.” Well, for me that doesn’t   finally drilling an entrance hole in the log   The trees have a bluish-black berry   the tree, in even the driest of field guides,
 explain why it’s called a gum tree, only   for bees to enter. Bee diseases have made   fruit that is called a drupe because of   that doesn’t describe them as being best
 why it shouldn’t be.                 this style of bee box go out of fashion.  the way it dangles on the stem. These   known for their spectacular autumn
   The common name for Nyssa is tupelo,   The grain of tupelo is interlocked and   fruits ripen from now through October.   showiness.
 which derives from a Native American   twisted making it nearly impossible to   The common name “sour” gum comes   During summer the leaves are a deep
 language. Tupelos are associated with   split, but whole logs can be burned.   from the fact that the berries are acidic   green, shiny on the top surface and slight-
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