Our first-ever Field Notes

Sometimes, I believe that Nyssa sylvatica (pepperidge) follows me around the country. It covers a large portion of the Eastern US, from Maine to Florida, and west to Michigan and Texas. No tree can dominate the fall color scene quite like pepperidge. Its rich, yellow-orange, red and purple colors fluoresce against pale October skies.

Dr. Michael A. Dirr

Pepperidge is found in a variety of sites from wet to dry. In cultivation, it makes its best growth in moist, acid, well-drained soil. I have observed the tree growing next to fresh water ponds on Cape Cod, on flats and hillsides in southern Indiana and in both dry and moist sites in Georgia, from the mountains to the coastal plain.

When considering the excellent geographical adaptability, one wonders why the tree is so seldom available in commerce. One of the most frequently cited reasons is that it is difficult to transplant. However, there are individuals who successfully transplant the tree.

I have germinated numerous seedlings and transplanted them into containers, where in a single season they grew to about 3 feet and made rather handsome small trees. These container plants are easy to transplant. Because of root pruning, drip irrigation and the field-bag method of production, transplanting should not present any problems. Spring is the best time to move pepperidge.

Pepperidge assumes a graceful pyramidal-to-oval outline in youth and becomes more spreading with age. Since it is seed-grown, tremendous variation is to be expected. Its ultimate landscape size is about 30 to 50 feet, although the species can grow to 100 feet.

Pepperidge’s flowers are largely inconspicuous. Its oval, bluish drupes ripen in September and October and are 1/2 to 1/8 inch long. Its fruits can be collected. For seeds to germinate, the pulp must be removed. They may be either directly planted or be provided a 90-day, cold-stratification period in moist peat. Its seeds germinate like green beans.

On large trunks, its bark develops a blocky consistency much like that of Diospyros virginiana (common persimmon). Pepperidge’s branching habit is unusual. Its secondary limbs develop off the main trunk in a spoke-and-hub fashion, which is particularly evident in a winter silhouette.

Nyssa sylvatica may never become a staple of the American nursery industry, but its place in the landscape sun is certainly justified.

Dr. Michael A. Dirr
Department of Horticulture
University of Georgia
Athens, GA

Name: Nyssa sylvatica
Common name: Pepperidge
Hardiness: Zones 3 to 9
Mature height: 30 to 100 feet
Mature width: 20 to 30 feet
Classification: Tree