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Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)

Life history

Species overview

Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in partial to full sunlight in uplands, along stream bottoms, and on the margins of ephemeral ponds and southern hardwood swamps. Blooming occurs May through June; fruiting occurs mid-June through August. This species can be identified year-round.

Synonyms: Nyssa caroliniana, Nyssa sylvatica var. caroliniana, Nyssa sylvatica var. dilatata, Nyssa sylvatica var. typica


  • Distinguishing characteristics: This is the only species in this genus found in Wisconsin. Its combination of deeply furrowed bark and simple, glossy leaves, which turn brilliant red and orange in the fall make it recognizable.
  • Flower characteristics: Flowers unisexual, small, greenish-white, borne 1 to 3 (female) or in clusters (male).
  • Fruit characteristics: Drupe blue-black, ovoid to globular, .8 to 1.7 cm long; stone with about 10 shallow grooves separated by low, rounded ridges.
  • Leaf characteristics: Alternate, simple, leathery, usually abruptly short pointed, densely clustered at the branchlets, deciduous, turning scarlet in the fall.


  • Blooming phenology: May through June
  • Fruiting phenology: mid-June through August
  • Optimum time to identify: This species can be identified year-round


  • Growth form: Tree
  • Vegetative reproduction: Will stump sprout and develop root suckers
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated species: Not recorded for Wisconsin sites. Associates in Michigan include Ulmus americana, Acer rubrum, Fagus grandifolia, Tilia americana, Quercus palustris, and Cornus alternafolia.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Nyssa sylvatica in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found in partial to full sunlight in uplands, along stream bottoms, and on the margins of ephemeral ponds and southern hardwood swamps.
  • Soils: Well-drained, alluvial soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Black Tupelo. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Black Tupelo. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Ecological landscape score
Southern Lake Michigan Coastal 2

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • This species can occur in habitats where use of prescribed fire may be considered. Adults have thick bark and are likely fire-adapted while saplings will re-sprout after being top-killed. However, repeated fires or hot fires during particularly dry years may result in mortality. Nyssa sylvatica is preferred by white-tailed deer and seedlings and small saplings may need to be protected from deer to realize benefits from canopy opening.
  • Minimize disturbance to hydrology, including soil disturbance from rutting.
  • Although maintaining high overall forest canopy is important, silvicultural techniques which open small gaps in the canopy may be beneficial to this species.


Black Tupelo Photo.

Photo © Kitty Kohout.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition