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Liquidambar styraciflua

Common Name(s):

Previously known as:

  • Formally in Hamamalidaceae
Description

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.”  Its common name, sweet gum, references the aromatic gum that oozes from wounds to the tree.

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.

 

Learn more about 'Gumball' sweetgum shrub Cultivar.

Seasons of Interest: 

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

 

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. Does not tolerate shade. Avoid alkaline soils. Trees are not reliably winter hardy in the northern areas of USDA Zone 5.

Cultivars:
  • 'Aurea'
  • 'Aurora'
  • 'Burgundy'
  • 'Corky'
  • 'Festival'
  • 'Gumball'
  • 'Oconee'
  • 'Palo Alto'
  • 'Rotundiloba'
    No gumballs and vibrant fall color
  • 'Variegata'
    Variegated foliage
  • 'White Star'
Tags:
#fragrant#deciduous#fall color#birds#shade tree#songbirds#wildlife plant#fragrant leaves#low maintenance#rabbit resistant#playground#cpp#low flammability#mice#beavers#nitrogen fixation#deer resistant#children's garden#fire resistant
Cultivars:
  • 'Aurea'
  • 'Aurora'
  • 'Burgundy'
  • 'Corky'
  • 'Festival'
  • 'Gumball'
  • 'Oconee'
  • 'Palo Alto'
  • 'Rotundiloba'
    No gumballs and vibrant fall color
  • 'Variegata'
    Variegated foliage
  • 'White Star'
Tags:
#fragrant#deciduous#fall color#birds#shade tree#songbirds#wildlife plant#fragrant leaves#low maintenance#rabbit resistant#playground#cpp#low flammability#mice#beavers#nitrogen fixation#deer resistant#children's garden#fire resistant
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Liquidambar
    Species:
    styraciflua
    Family:
    Altingiaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Resinous gum are used for creating chewing gum, incense, perfumes, folk medicines (for things like dysentery and diarrhea) and flavorings.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Eastern United States, Mexico
    Distribution:
    PA southwest to TX east to FL north up to New England, CA
    Fire Risk Rating:
    low flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    Songbirds, like the American goldfinch eat the seeds during the winter and mall birds probe inside fruits in winter for invertebrates. Beavers, mice and rabbits eat the bark.
    Play Value:
    Wildlife Enhancement
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Resistant to fire in landscape, moderately resistant to damage from deer and rabbits..
    Dimensions:
    Height: 60 ft. 0 in. - 100 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 40 ft. 0 in. - 60 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Shrub
    Tree
    Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Pyramidal
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Available Space To Plant:
    more than 60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    Usda Plant Hardiness Zone:
    6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Winter
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Length:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Width:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Description:
    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 seed is a syncarp.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Insignificant
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Insignificant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Description:
    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.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Orange
    Purple/Lavender
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Orange
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Deltoid
    Leaf Margin:
    Dentate
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    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.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Light Gray
    Bark Description:
    Irregularly furrowed bark
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Children's Garden
    Native Garden
    Design Feature:
    Shade Tree
    Attracts:
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Rabbits
    Problems:
    Messy