The small tree is attempting to grow over the vine that has wrapped around it. Most likely the vine will kill its host after a silent struggle that may last for years. If the vine dies or is cut away soon enough, the deformed tree may survive, recover and grow into an adult tree.
Black gum trees may grow to more than 80 years old and more than 80 feet tall.
With a situation as severe as the one shown here, the sapling will almost surely die. Both the tree and the vine were alive when I snapped this photo.
Wood carvers who make walking canes often search for anomalies like this and may turn the small crippled tree into a beautiful walking stick.
Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell. Find this column at semissourian.com to order a reprint of the photo. Find more work by him at the O'Tenem Gallery.