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Liquidambar styraciflua

Common Name(s):
Burgundy, Festival, Palo Alto, Rotundiloba , Aurea, Aurora, Oconee, Gumball, Corky, White Star, Variegata
Native Plants, Shrubs, Trees

The Liquidambar styraciflua tree may be the bane of some homeowner’s existence because of their troublesome fruit.  In his entry of the widely recognized Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs, Michael Dirr states “This lovely tree would be on every gardener’s wish list were it not for the woody, spiny, capsular, 1" to 1 ½" diameter fruit, which abscise through fall and winter.” 

The tree is a moderate to rapid grower and highly resistant to insect attack, making it a good candidate for reforestation and land reclamation projects.  Reaching typical heights of 60 to 80 feet it is not uncommon to find them exceeding the 100 foot mark.  These trees grow in a very straight form which makes it a good species for lumber, furniture, musical instrument components and veneer.  Other attributes of the Sweetgum include the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil and provide large areas of shade. 

Tree wood has been widely used for a number of applications including flooring, furniture and home interiors. The gum obtained from genus plants has been used in the past for a variety of purposes, including chewing gum, incense, perfumes, folk medicines and flavorings.

The common name of sweet gum refers to an aromatic balsam or gum that exudes from wounds to the tree.

Learn more about 'Gumball' sweetgum shrub Cultivar.

Regions:  Mountain, Piedmont, Coastal Plains

Seasons of Interest: 

     Leaves:  Fall     Bloom:  Spring     Fruit/Seed/Nut:  Winter

Wildlife Value: The Sweetgum tree is moderately resistant to damage from deer.  Beavers, mice and rabbits eat the bark.  Songbirds, like the American goldfinch eat the seeds during the winter and mall birds probe inside fruits in winter for invertebrates.

Play Value: Wildlife Enhancement

Notes: 'Rotundiloba' is a great cultivar: no gumballs and vibrant fall color 

Seed:  Syncarp

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems:  Webworms, caterpillars, borers and scale may cause problems in some areas. Leaf spots, wood rot and bleeding necrosis may occur. Iron chlorosis may occur in alkaline soils.  The fruit is a litter problem in lawn areas. 

60-100 ft.
Fall color at its best is a brilliant mixture of yellows, oranges, purples and reds.
The Sweetgum has non-showy, monoecious, yellow-green flowers that appear in spherical clusters in April-May. Female flowers give way to the infamous gum balls which are hard, spherical, bristly fruiting clusters to 1.5” diameter. Gum balls mature to dark brown and usually remain on the tree through the winter, but can create clean-up problems during the general period of December through April as the clusters fall to the ground.
The Sweetgum tree is easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Intolerant of shade. Prefers deep, moist, fertile soils, but seems to tolerate a wide variety of soils. Avoid alkaline soils however. Trees are not reliably winter hardy in the northern areas of USDA Zone 5.
Pyramidal in youth; upright; semi-conical to spreading with age
50-75 ft.
Growth Rate:
Moderate to rapid
The Sweetgum tree has glossy, long-stalked, deep green leaves (4-7” across) with toothed margins. Each leaf has 5-7 pointed, star-shaped lobes. Leaves are fragrant when bruised. Fall color at its best is a brilliant mixture of yellows, oranges, purples and reds.
play, cpp, showy fruit, deciduous, birds, playground, shade tree, tscchildren’s garden

NCCES plant id: 2035

Liquidambar styraciflua Liquidambar growth habit
Photo by F. D. Richards, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Liquidambar styraciflua Liquidambar late season color
Photo by Leonora Enking, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Liquidambar styraciflua Liquidambar leaf detail
Photo by Maggie, CC BY-NC-2.0
Liquidambar styraciflua Liquidambar immature "gum ball"
Photo by Maggie, CC BY-NC-2.0