Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Liquidambar styraciflua

Sweetgum, American sweetgum, Red gum, White gum, Star-leaved gum, Starleaf gum, Alligator tree, Satin walnut, Bilsted, Liquidambar

Hamamelidaceae (Witch-Hazel Family)

Liquidambar styraciflua (Sweetgum)
Makin, Julie
A large, open-crowned tree, sweet-gum grows 75 ft. tall in cultivation and up to 130 ft. in the wild. Large, aromatic tree with straight trunk and conical crown that becomes round and spreading. Young trees are distinctly conical in form. The long, straight trunk is occasionally buttressed and bears strong, ascending branches. Glossy green, deciduous leaves have five deep lobes making a star shape. Fall foliage is purple and red, and will become colorful even without cold temperatures. The fruit is a globular, horny, woody ball, 1 in. in diameter, which hangs on a long stem and persists through January.

An important timber tree, Sweetgum is second in production only to oaks among hardwoods. It is a leading furniture wood, used for cabinetwork, veneer, plywood, pulpwood, barrels, and boxes. In pioneer days, a gum was obtained from the trunks by peeling the bark and scraping off the resinlike solid. This gum was used medicinally as well as for chewing gum.Commercial storax, a fragrant resin used in perfumes and medicines, is from the related Oriental Sweetgum (Liquidambar orientalis Mill.) of western Asia.

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Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Leaf: Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Brown
Size Class: 72-100 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Green
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May


USA: AL , AR , CT , DE , FL , GA , IL , IN , KY , LA , MD , MA , MS , MO , NJ , NY , NC , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VA , WV , DC
Native Distribution: S. CT to s. IN, s. IL & s.e. MO, s. to s. FL, s.e. TX & s.e. OK; also n.e. Mex. south to Nicaragua
Native Habitat: Low, rich, moist woods; coastal plains

Growing Conditions

Water Use: High
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Cold Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Deep, moist, alluvial loams. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Acid-based.
Conditions Comments: Sweet gum can become aggressive in moist, sandy soils. It is not drought-tolerant and does not do well is polluted areas or small areas which limit root development. It grows rapidly and is long-lived, adapting to a variety of sites. It is susceptible to iron chlorosis in soil which is too basic. Plant only in spring as roots take 3-4 months to recover from the shock of transplanting. Fruits do not readily decompose and and can jam reel mowers.


Use Ornamental: Fast growing, Attractive, Long-living, Fall conspicuous, Shade tree
Use Wildlife: Seed balls attract several bird species. Nesting site, Cover, Fruit-birds, Fruit-mammals
Use Medicinal: Comanches used unknown species as contraception. Used to suppress menstrual flow by Assiniboins. (Kindscher) Tea made from leaves used to wash wounds, decoctim of roots from sweet gum and pennywort applied directly to wounds, balsam from sweet gum bark is an astringent. (Weiner)
Attracts: Birds

Last Update: 2015-11-10