• Liquidambar styraciflua - Sweetgum


    "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." (North Carolina Extension) 

    Liquidambar Styraciflua Botany  by Dr. John Hilty


    "The preference is full or partial sun, moist conditions, and fertile soil containing loam or clay-loam. Alkaline soil can cause difficulty in absorbing iron and other nutrients, therefore it should be avoided. Occasional flooding is tolerated if it is relatively short in duration. Seedheads are produced on trees about 25 years old and annually thereafter. The biggest drawback in cultivating this tree is the abundance of spiky seedheads that fall to the ground from autumn to spring. In addition to their unsightly appearance, they are difficult to walk on and require additional labor to remove." (Hilty)

    Luna moth larvae feed on the leaves of sweetgum

    Faunal Associations: 

    "Compared to other trees, very few insects appear to feed on Sweet Gum. The caterpillars of the moths Actias luna (Luna Moth) and Paectes abrostoloides (Large Paectes) feed on the leaves of this tree, while larvae of the bark beetle Pityophthorus liquidambarus infest damaged or dead trees. The seeds are a source of food to some songbirds during the fall or winter: these species include the Mourning Dove, Eastern Towhee, Carolina Chickadee, Eastern Goldfinch, Purple Finch, Common Redpoll, Slate-Colored Junco, and White-Throated Sparrow. In addition, the seeds are a minor source of food for the Gray Squirrel and Eastern Chipmunk. When Sweet Gum occurs near bodies of water, the Beaver occasionally uses its wood and branches for food and construction materials." (Hilty)


    1. "Growth habit" by F. D. Richards is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0
    2. "Sweet Gum during autumn along Lower Ferry Road in Ewing, New Jersey" By Famartin - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36997397
    3. "Summer foliage" By Photo: JLPC / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30077843

    North Carolina Extension plant description: Liquidambar Styraciflua (American Sweet Gum, Redgum, Red Sweet Gum, Sweetgum, Sweet Gum, Sweetgum Tree) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/liquidambar-styraciflua/. Accessed 9 Feb. 2022.

    John Hilty botany, cultivation and faunal associations: John Hilty, "Sweet Gum", Illinois Wildflowers, Copyright 2004-2019. Accessed 9 February 2022

    Botanical Image: "Immature fruit" By Photo (c)2007 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) - Self-photographed, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3140447

    Luna moth by Ryan Hagerty - http://www.public-domain-image.com/public-domain-images-pictures-free-stock-photos/fauna-animals-public-domain-images-pictures/insects-and-bugs-public-domain-images-pictures/butterflies-and-moths-pictures/close-view-of-a-large-green-luna-moth-on-the-bark-of-a-hardwood-tree.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24870332

    Common Name: sweet gum
    Type: Tree
    Family: Altingiaceae
    Native Range: Eastern United States, Mexico
    Zone: 5 to 9
    Height: 60.00 to 80.00 feet
    Spread: 40.00 to 60.00 feet
    Bloom Time: April to May
    Bloom Description: Yellow-green
    Sun: Full sun
    Water: Medium
    Maintenance: Low
    Suggested Use: Shade Tree
    Flower: Insignificant
    Leaf: Fragrant, Good Fall
    Fruit: Showy
    Tolerate: Rabbit, Deer, Clay Soil

    Information and images compiled by Erik N. Vegeto

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