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LIQUIDAMBAR styraciflua

Image of Liquidambar styraciflua

James H. Schutte

Family

Hamamelidaceae

Botanical Name

LIQUIDAMBAR styraciflua

Plant Common Name

American Sweetgum

General Description

The spiny fruits, palmate foliage and stark appearance of the American sweetgum are all unmistakable. This impressive tall, deciduous tree is native to the central and southeastern United States from New York to Florida and across to Texas. Specimens are also said to grow into Mexico and Central America. Sweetgum is an incredibly adaptable hardwood that’s able to thrive in both lowland and upland sites. It is both fast growing and strong wooded and develops an oval to rounded canopy when mature, though younger tree have a more erect form.

The distinctive palmate leaves of sweetgum have straight, pointy lobes. These are typically glossy green in summer and turn brilliant shades of yellow, red and purple in autumn. In more southern zones, the fall color is not as brilliant. Inconspicuous greenish yellow flowers appear in spring and are followed by spiny fruits that are commonly called “gumballs.” The spherical capsules turn from green to brown and persist on the branches into winter before they gradually drop. Its furrowed bark adds marginal winter interest.

American sweetgum grows best in full sun exposures. It is highly adaptable to a wide range of soil types and topographies from clay to sand and uplands to swamplands, though it tends to grow best in slightly acid soils with good organic matter and average drainage. It has few pest and disease problems. Its main troubles are due to its prolific messy fruits that are painful to step on barefooted, slow to decompose and release seed that readily germinates.

This is a lovely shade tree for natural areas, large landscapes and parks. It is not advisable to plant wild-type specimens as street trees or near a public areas and playgrounds but the sterile cultivar ‘Rotundiloba’ is suitable as it does not produce fruit. Other notable cultivars include ‘Palo Alto’, which has bright red fall foliage and ‘Variegata’, which has green leaves with streaks and blotches of yellow.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    10 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    4 - 10

  • Sunset Zone

    3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Tree

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    60'-100' / 18.3m - 30.5m (70)

  • Width

    20'-25' / 6.1m - 7.6m (20)

  • Bloom Time

    Late Spring, Early Summer

  • Native To

    Mid-Atlantic United States, Southeastern United States, South-Central United States, Texas, Mexico, Central America

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Average

  • Soil type

    Clay, Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Wet Site, Pollution, Drought, Soil Compaction

  • Growth Rate

    Medium

  • Water Requirements

    Drought Tolerant, Average Water

  • Habit

    Oval/Rounded

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Insignificant

  • Flower Color

    Yellow Green

  • Fruit Color

    Green, Tan, Brown

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Yellow, Red, Purple, Orange, Dark Red

  • Bark Color

    Sandy Brown, Gray

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Foliage Sheen

    Glossy

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Corky

  • Usage

    Feature Plant, Shade Trees, Street Trees

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes