The Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is a deciduous tree that is native to large part of the United States, Mexico and Central America. It is a medium-sized tree and has a straight trunk and a symmetrically shaped round canopy. Deep green leaves have star-shaped lobes and finely toothed edges. The leaves turn a beautiful crimson red in the fall. Female flowers turn into bristly fruit often called gum balls. The gum balls usually remain on the tree through the winter. Young bark is smooth silvery gray that becomes rough with age. Sweetgum wood has been widely used in flooring, furniture and home interiors. The chewable hardened sap or resin, as well as its leaves and bark, are said to have medicinal properties. Fruits persist throughout winter dropping in spring or beyond. The fruits can be an urban street hazard. Genus name comes from the Latin Liquidus meaning “liquid” and ambar meaning “fragrant resin.” Specific epithet means “flowing storax” (a rare fragrant gum resin). The common name refers to an aromatic balsam or gum that exudes from tree wounds.
Common name: American Sweetgum
Scientific Name (family and order): Liquidamber styraciflora L. (Altingiaceae, Saxifragales)
Species Origin: Eastern North America and Central S. America
New Jersey Status: USDA Native
Habit: 60 – 75 feet high; spread 2/3 of height
Habitat: Zone 5 -9.
Trunk/Stem: Bark light to dark reddish or yellowish brown, aromatic acquires features. During the second year it bark develops greyish-brown, and deep furrows with narrow somewhat rounded ridges and corky wings. Branchlets may also have distinctive corky ridges.
Leaves: Deciduous, Simple, Alternate. Star-shaped leaf, 5-7 lobes where the central lobe is the largest, oblong triangular; tip acuminate; base cordate; margins serrate; top blade dark green and lustrous; bottom blade paler; petiole as long as blade. Palmate venation. Leaves emit resinous odor when crushed. Fall leaf colors brilliant mixture of yellows, oranges, purples and reds.
Flowers: Monoecious, Both flowers green-yellow. Female flowers on slender pedicle terminated by a ½” globose head; ovaries coalescing at maturity to form a solid structure. Male flowers in a terminal upright panicle, 3 – 4“ long.
Fruits and seeds: Fruit an aggregate, pendulous syncarp of dehiscent capsules (an aggregate fruit, derived from multiple pistils of one flower) with long pedicle; seeds brownish and winged.