November 2021 - Sweetgum
Common Name: American Sweetgum
Botanical Name: Liquidambar styraciflua
Native Range: Zone 5-9. Can be injured and growth inhibited by severe cold weather.
Height: 60’ to 75’ in height but can reach up to 120’ in the wild. The tallest sweetgum recorded was 160’ in South Carolina.
Spread: Typically the spread is 2/3 of the height
Growth Rate: Medium to fast growth rate of 2’ to 3’ per year in moist soil; slower in dry soil. Note that the first year after planting, the tree literally ‘sits still’ with little growth noted until roots are established. Following the initial resting year, growth resumes.
Sun: Needs at least six hours of full sun per day.
Soil: acidic, loamy, moist soil with good drainage offers optimum growth although the tree is moderately drought tolerant
Leaf Description: opposite, leaves are star shaped; deep glossy green in summer changing to yellow/purple/red tones in fall. The tree does hold its leaves until late in the fall.
Fall Color: yellow/purple/ red tones, ornamental fall color
Flower Timing: mid spring
Flower Description: flowers are inconspicuous
Fruit: Yields long-stemmed, woody, burr-like fruit that is approximately 1 ½” in diameter. The seeds fall over a great period of time from November through April and can be considered somewhat messy.
Bark Description: Bark starts developing as orange-brown corky wings on young stems; these develop into corky rides and furrows at a young age, becoming a more typical gray ridged and furrowed on older trees. Rough bark adds to winter appeal.
Wildlife Benefit: the seeds are eaten by goldfinch, purple finches, sparrows, mourning doves, northern bobwhite and wild turkeys. Small mammals also enjoy the seeds.
Tolerates: very tolerant of soil variants but prefers slightly acid, moist conditions.
Possible Insects and Disease: bleeding necrosis, leaf spots, sweetgum webworm, caterpillars, scale, iron chlorosis
- The Sweetgum tree is native to the southeastern United States and a member of a genus made up of only six species. The others are found only in Asia.
- There are more than forty varied cultivars of this tree with one Rotondiloba, with rounded leaves and very little fruit production
- Happidaze is another cultivar with minimal fruit
- Slender Silhouette is a very tight and columnar cultivar
- The first historical reference to the tree comes from the author and soldier, Don Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who accompanied Cortez in 1519 and was a witness to ceremonies between Cortez and Montezuma, who both partook of a liquid amber extracted from the sweetgum tree. The tree itself was first noticed and recorded by the historian Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca in 1542.
- Once commercially popular for soaps, adhesives and pharmaceuticals, today its wood is valuable for fine furniture.
Where to be found on municipal property:
- Specimen sweetgum in Marquand Park directly across from the kiosk and Little Kids Library
- Slender Silhouette cultivars planted in front of the PFARS First Aid Squad
- Rotondiloba cultivars planted along the parking lot area of Farmview Fields off of Great Road
- Located on the western bank of Mountain Lakes bordering Coventry Farm within the deer enclosure fence along the red trail, visitors will spot some young sweet gum saplings. Look for the brilliant fall color.
See How Much a Sweetgum is Worth:
Dirr, M. A.; Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. 2019
Patricia Frawley, November 2021