A resplendent member of the deep-rooted tupelo family is our black gum tree. Particularly impressive examples lift their leafy branches 60 or more feet above the muddy swamp bottoms of Carolina. In autumn, black gums make their presence known early. The trees lead the color parade, being among the first to be stimulated by fall and its fast-shortening days.
Known by several other names including sour gum and pepperidge the deciduous black gum fairly glows this time of year with brilliant scarlet, and other colors too. Its thin, translucent leaves allow the lovely fall light to shine right through them. Its colorful leaves contrast with a gray trunk, which resembles a dried alligators hide.
The black gum and its kin provide a vital foundation for many ecosystems: its nectar is a delight to the honey bee, its fruit a treat attracting bird and bear, possum and raccoon. Squirrels find its ripe black berries a delightful snack. Black gums host owls by night, and hawks by day, standing guard lest any bushy-tailed ones tarry too long at the dinner plate.
A tree that stands tall in wind and storm, sometimes for hundreds of years, the black gum belongs to all who pause beneath its spread, and have the vision to see beauty in natures wondrous ways.