It’s a tupelo, honey.
We got a tree.
I can hear the naysayers mumbling, “Where I come from, we call that a twig, not a tree.”
But, as they say, the best time to plant a tree is fifty years ago, and the second best time is now.
After ridding our side yard of the “decorative” stump that loomed over the lawn, we began a protracted search for a replacement tree. As I do, I developed a long list of mandatory criteria that no tree could ever meet. It needed to live a long time, it needed to look good year round (but especially in the fall), it should be large, but not too large, and it needed to be happy in the heat of central North Carolina summers. We considered and rejected nearly every sort of tree commonly available at the local nursery: crabapple (too messy), maple (too common), cherry (too ephemeral), hawthorn (too thorny), dogwood (too slow-growing), redbud (too short-lived), oak (too big).
At an impasse, we decided to defer our selection until spring, giving us time to brainstorm new options. But, a chance encounter with one of our neighbors, an amateur tree buff, resulted in an unexpectedly perfect suggestion: a tupelo tree. Now, as far as I knew, Tupelo was just a town in Mississippi. Turns out it’s a type of tree too, alternately known as a black gum. And, in case you’re wondering, tupelo honey is honey made by bees collecting nectar from tupelo trees. As I read more about the tree, the more of my requirements it met.
It’s native, growing naturally from Canada to Mexico.
It’s big, but not too big, maxing out at 60 – 80 feet tall and 25 – 35 feet wide.
It has a tidy growth habit with a straight trunk and branches that emerge at ninety degrees from it.
It’s drought-tolerant once established, and can tolerate a range of soil types.
It’s long-lived, averaging 250 years, but specimens 600 years or older have been identified.
And, best of all, tupelos have spectacular bright red fall color, similar to a red maple.
The tree might not look like much now, but in a few decades, I’ m confident our tupelo will be a familiar fixture in our corner of Hillsborough.