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Redgum Liquidambar styraciflua

Previously known as:

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

Liquidambar styraciflua, or Sweetgum, is a large. valuable, forest tree frequently found in wet river bottoms, in swamps that frequently flood, and on drier uplands (except the high mountains) throughout North Carolina. It is often the bane of some homeowner’s existence because of its troublesome fruit. In Michael Dirr's entry for Sweetgum in his widely recognized Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs, it 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, refers to the aromatic gum that oozes from wounds to the tree. An alternate name, Redgum, may come from the reddish-brown heartwood found in logs greater than 16 inches in diameter.

Sweetgum is a deciduous tree that may grow 80 to 120 feet tall with a diameter of 4 feet or more. On most sites, the tree averages 60 to 80 feet high and 2 to 3 feet in diameter. 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. The tree has a shallow root system and should be planted in spring because roots take 3 to 4 months to recover from the shock of transplanting.

Sweetgum usually grows 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.

Learn more about 'Gumball' sweetgum shrub Cultivar.

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.

VIDEO Created by Elizabeth Meyer for "Trees, Shrubs and Conifers" a plant identification course offered in partnership with Longwood Gardens.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscapes:
Plant Walls and Hedges Paul J Ciener Botanical Garden
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Aurea', 'Aurora', 'Burgundy', 'Corky', 'Festival', 'Gumball', 'Oconee', 'Palo Alto', 'Rotundiloba', 'Slender Silhouette', 'Variegata', 'White Star'
Tags:
#fragrant#deciduous#fall color#shade tree#wildlife plant#native tree#pyramidal#moths#fragrant leaves#tree#low maintenance#tsc#rabbit resistant#playground#small mammals#food source#cpp#low flammability#NC native#mice#beavers#nitrogen fixation#deer resistant#nighttime garden#children's garden#fire resistant#edible fruits#Braham Arboretum#fantz#larval host plant#food source winter#coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#bird friendly#food source hard mast fruit#fall color red#tsc-t#pollinator garden#moth larva#hickory horndevil moth#imperial moth
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Aurea', 'Aurora', 'Burgundy', 'Corky', 'Festival', 'Gumball', 'Oconee', 'Palo Alto', 'Rotundiloba', 'Slender Silhouette', 'Variegata', 'White Star'
Tags:
#fragrant#deciduous#fall color#shade tree#wildlife plant#native tree#pyramidal#moths#fragrant leaves#tree#low maintenance#tsc#rabbit resistant#playground#small mammals#food source#cpp#low flammability#NC native#mice#beavers#nitrogen fixation#deer resistant#nighttime garden#children's garden#fire resistant#edible fruits#Braham Arboretum#fantz#larval host plant#food source winter#coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#bird friendly#food source hard mast fruit#fall color red#tsc-t#pollinator garden#moth larva#hickory horndevil moth#imperial moth
  • 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. In pioneer days, the gum was obtained from the trunks by peeling the bark and scraping the resin-like solid beneath. Currently, this tree is second in production to oaks among the hardwoods. The wood is heavy, moderately hard, and close grained and used for furniture, cabinetwork, veneer, plywood, pulpwood, barrels, and boxes. It is not durable upon exposure.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Eastern United States, Mexico
    Distribution:
    Pennsylvania southwest to Texas, east to Florida, nnorth up to New England, California.
    Fire Risk Rating:
    low flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    This plant supports Imperial Moth (Eacles imperialis) larvae which have one brood per season and appear from April-October in the south. Adult Imperial Moths do not feed. This plant also supports Hickory Horndevil (Citheronia regalis) larvae which have one brood and appear from May to mid-September. Adult Hickory Horndevil moths do not feed. 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
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Pyramidal
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Medium
    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)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    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:
    5b, 5a, 6a, 6b, 7b, 7a, 8b, 8a, 9b, 9a
  • 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 a globose head (the infamous gum ball) which are hard, beak shaped, bristly fruiting capsules 1 to 3 inches 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 capsules contain two tiny seeds (syncarp). The fruits persist through the winter and 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:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Orange
    Purple/Lavender
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    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 deeply separated, 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:
    Corky scales that darken the tree. As the tree matures, it forms irregular, deeply-furrowed bark. After the second year, twigs may develop two to four corky projections. 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
    Nighttime Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Shade Tree
    Attracts:
    Moths
    Pollinators
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Compaction
    Deer
    Drought
    Fire
    Heat
    Rabbits
    Problems:
    Messy