The Black Gum Tree: Characteristics, Varieties, and Benefits

The Black Gum Tree: Characteristics, Varieties, and Benefits

Black Gum Tree

Maple trees make for one impressive springtime spectacle. But, if you haven't noticed, maple trees are not always the dominating tree during foliage season — that honor goes to the black gum tree.

This tree's dark bark and unusual shape starkly contrast the more familiar sugar maple. The leaves of the black gum are darker than their sugar counterparts, and they develop pinkish-purple flowers in mid-spring.

But there's more to these trees than just the leaves. Though they are related to sugar maple, they are more closely related to beech trees.

A trunk has two distinct trunks on each side of the tree. The second trunk runs along the ground and ends in a knot. This knot is where the berries are stored after ripening on the branch.

Tree Varieties

Black gum has several varieties, including black gum, swamp black gum, and pepperidge. Despite minor differences in leaf and bark, they have the same essential characteristics. All varieties have oblong-shaped leaves that alternate and measure two to four inches long with smooth margins. The fruits are nearly spherical and about one-half inch wide. Their brownish skin has a smooth texture with a single seed embedded in the flesh.

Where and Where not To Grow Black Gum

The tree is not a famous street tree because it grows tall and drops branches. It also requires a significant amount of water — over 50 inches per year. For this reason, it does well next to lakes and streams—or even in swamps and bogs.

Though this tree attracts attention for its unusual nature, it is not recommended for planting in heavily populated areas such as parks or yards. Once English settlers realized the fragrant and nutritious fruits of the black gum, they planted them on their extensive plantations. It is common to see black gum trees in front of plantation homes in the southeastern United States.


Black Gum and Sweet Gum Tree has uses in traditional medicine. The leaves of this tree have been used as a substitute for mullein leaves to treat fever and rheumatism. Similarly, the pith from the trunk has been used to treat several ailments.

Though these trees can sometimes be found in gardens and yards, they are often found in swamps and Wetland Plants. Generally, not many black gum trees are found in residential areas, except for floodplain forests or prairie plantings.

The tree is also a significant part of an ecological community. Its spreading root system helps prevent soil erosion, while its thick shade keeps the ground cool and moist.

It is also a food source for more than 100 species of wildlife — especially squirrels. These trees have high amounts of food value and protein, so they are the prime food source for squirrels in winter.

The sap from black gum trees has many traditional uses, such as chewing, cooking, and boiling to make maple syrup. Though black gum trees are not popular street trees, they have many uses and benefits for the ecological community.