Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 270 Liquidambar styraciflua

Common Names: sweetgum, redgum Family: Hamamelidaceae (witch-hazel Family)
Image Gallery

sweetgum leaf
Depending on several factors (variety, geography, weather, etc.) the fall color of sweetgum foliage can range from yellow to scarlet to red to burgundy and are always pretty regardless of hue.

Description

Sweetgum is a large deciduous hardwood tree that can grow to height over 100 ft (30.5 m). When grown in the open, sweetgum forms beautifully symmetric, cone shaped crown that becomes more rounded as the tree reaches maturity. This tree is readily identified by its star shaped, palmate leaves that are 4-7 in (10-17.8 cm) in diameter. Its blooms are inconspicuous, but it is sweetgum's infamous fruits that let you know there's a sweetgum around - especially when you step on one barefoot. About 1-1.5 in (2.5-3.8 cm) in diameter, these are hard spiny golf ball size brown spheres that can be seen dangling from trees after the leaves drop. They often release their little seeds before they fall from the tree which aids in dispersal. On a good site, sweetgum can grow to be a true forest giant.

Several cultivars are available included variegated versions like 'Variegata' and 'Golden Treasure'. 'Palo Alto' has orange foliage in all and is especially adapted to California's climate. One of the most popular cultivars is 'Rotondifolia' which has rounded leaves that look a bit like fig leaves (Ficus carica) but its best feature is that it does not produce spiky dingleball fruits. 'Gumball' is shrubby and slowly grows to only 10-15 ft (3-4.6 m)

'Gumball' sweetgum
The cultivar 'Gumball' is short and shrubby.

Location

Sweetgum, Liquidambar stryaciflua, occurs in the United States from Connecticut, west through southeastern New York and southern Ohio, through Missouri to eastern Oklahoma, south to include Texas and Florida.

Culture

Sweetgum is most commonly found growing on bottomland sites, but it tolerates a wide variety of conditions. Light: Full sun to filtered shade. Moisture: Best on moist, well drained sites. But will succeed on drier spots and is even rather drought resistant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. Propagation: Seeds.
sweetgum male flowers
Sweetgum tree's blooms in early spring just before the leaves appear. These are the male flowers.
sweetgum female flowers
Female flowers
mature sweetgum fruit
Spiky mature sweetgum fruit a'danglin from the tree.

Usage

This large hardwood tree is used for veneer, furniture, interior trim and woodenware, in addition to pulpwood for fine papers. The dark purple to reddish brown heartwood has been marketed under trade names such as Italian mahogany and satin walnut. Sweetgum has been widely planted as an ornamental, especially outside of its natural range, due to its brilliant fall foliage (usually red). Its fast growth and wide tolerance make it a good choice as a street tree, shade tree, and as a windbreak tree. Sweetgum makes a beautiful specimen tree especially with a green lawn playing background to its beautiful fall color.

Features

Sweetgum is noted for its fast growth, large size, and beautiful fall colors. It is not usually bothered by pests or disease and will tolerate both drought and wet flooded soils. Sweetgum is a favorite of yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Look for their parallel rows of little square holes in the bark.

Warning

The spiny fruit pods are fairly objectionable, especially on lawns and sidewalks. The limbs drop fairly easily. This tree has a tendency to spread quickly on fertile moist sites and could become a pest if not controlled.

Steve Christman 06/04/97; updated 11/26/99, 01/03/01, 05/01/01, 10/23/03, 4/12/2012



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Liquidambar species profiled on Floridata:


Liquidambar styraciflua

( sweetgum, redgum )

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