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Liquidambar styraciflua

Common Name(s):

Previously known as:

  • Formerly in Hamamalidaceae
Phonetic Spelling
lih-kwid-AM-bar sty-rak-ee-FLOO-uh
Description

The Liquidambar styraciflua tree is found in wet forested areas and swamps.  It is often the 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, Sweetgum, references the aromatic gum that oozes from wounds to the tree.

Sweetgum is a deciduous tree that may grow 80 to 120 feet tall. The tree has alternate, palmately lobed leaves with toothed margins that mature into a star shape. The bark is gray-brown with irregular furrows and rough, rounded ridges. Small, bright yellow-green (tinged with red) flowers mature on stalks in spring. The tree produces a spherical, spiny fruiting head, known as a gumball, which is composed of numerous tiny capsules, each bearing one or two-winged seeds. These trees usually grow in a very straight form which makes it a good species for lumber, furniture, musical instrument components and veneer. The beautifully glossy, star-shaped leaves turn bright red, purple, yellow, or orange in the fall (USDA hardiness zones 6 and 7) and early winter (USDA hardiness zones 8 and 9). On some trees, particularly in the northern part of its range, branches are covered with characteristic corky projections. The trunk is normally straight and does not divide into double or multiple leaders and side branches are small in diameter on young trees, creating its pyramidal form. Other attributes of the Sweetgum include the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil and provide large areas of shade. This tree requires full sun to partial shade. It tolerates clay, sand, loam, acidic, and well-drained soils. It has moderate drought tolerance.

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.

Fire Risk: This plant has a low flammability rating.

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 / Varieties:
  • '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#native tree#pyramidal#fragrant leaves#tree#low maintenance#rabbit resistant#playground#small mammals#food source#cpp#low flammability#NC native#mice#beavers#nitrogen fixation#deer resistant#children's garden#fire resistant#edible fruits#Braham Arboretum#fantz#food source winter#food source hard mast fruit#coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#fall color red
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • '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#native tree#pyramidal#fragrant leaves#tree#low maintenance#rabbit resistant#playground#small mammals#food source#cpp#low flammability#NC native#mice#beavers#nitrogen fixation#deer resistant#children's garden#fire resistant#edible fruits#Braham Arboretum#fantz#food source winter#food source hard mast fruit#coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#fall color red
  • 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:
    Southeastern 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:
    Edible fruit
    Wildlife Food Source
    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. - 50 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Shrub
    Tree
    Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Pyramidal
    Spreading
    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
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Occasionally Wet
    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:
    Edible
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    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 1-3” in diameter appearing in August-September. 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. These fruits attract birds.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Insignificant
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Insignificant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    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
    Palmasect
    Leaf Margin:
    Dentate
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The Sweetgum tree has alternate, simple, serrate, palmate venation, glossy, deciduous, long-stalked, deep green leaves (4-8” 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
    Surface/Attachment:
    Ridges
    Bark Plate Shape:
    Irregular
    Bark Description:
    Irregularly furrowed bark. The bark is also a food source for small mammals like beavers, rabbits and mice.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Recreational Play Area
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Children's Garden
    Edible Garden
    Native Garden
    Design Feature:
    Shade Tree
    Attracts:
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Compaction
    Deer
    Drought
    Fire
    Heat
    Rabbits
    Problems:
    Messy