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Liquidambar styraciflua L.
Sweetgum, American sweetgum
USDA Symbol: list2
USDA Native Status: L48 (N)
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.
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial Habit: Tree Leaf Complexity: Simple Breeding System:
, Monoecious Leaf:
Green Autumn Foliage:
Brown Size Class:
Bloom InformationBloom Color: White , Green
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May
, WV Native Distribution:
to s. IN,
& s.e. MO,
s. to s. FL,
& s.e. OK; also n.e. Mex. south to Nicaragua Native Habitat:
Low, rich, moist woods; coastal plains
Growing ConditionsWater 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.
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:
PropagationPropagation Material: Seeds
Description: Seeds exhibit only a shallow dormancy and can be planted fresh or stratified. Leafy cuttings taken with a heel can be rooted in summer under mist.
Seed Collection: Collect mature fruiting heads before they have completely dried. Spread out the heads until they release the seeds (5-10 days at 68 degrees). Air dry and store in sealed containers at 35 degrees.
Seed Treatment: Stratify one to two months at 41 degrees.
Commercially Avail: yes
National Wetland Indicator Status
This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1
(Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here
for map of regions.
Record Last Modified: 2013-09-06
Research By: TWC Staff