Sweetgum is native to southeastern, east-central, and south-central United States, southern Mexico, and central America. It is a large deciduous hardwood tree, which can grow to over 100 feet in height and 3 to 5 feet in diameter, with a symmetrical, cone-shaped crown. The bark is grayish brown, deeply furrowed into narrow, somewhat rounded ridges. The leaves are alternate, simple, and palmately lobed with 5-7 points resembling a star in shape, dark green and lustrous above, and paler underneath. Flowers are monoecious, female, on a slender stalk terminated by a ½ inch diameter globose head consisting of 2-beaker ovaries subtended by minute scales. The fruit is a dangling brown, woody spiny tipped gum ball with seeds brownish and winged.
Erosion Control: Sweetgum is a good choice as a windbreak tree because of its fast growth and tolerance of a wide variety of sites.
Wildlife: Its seeds are eaten by birds, squirrels, and chipmunks.
Timber: Sweetgum is primarily used for lumber, veneer, plywood, slack cooperage, railroad ties, fuel and pulpwood. Its wood is used for veneer, furniture, interior trim, and wooden ware, in addition to pulpwood for fine papers.
Recreation and Beautification: It is used as a specimen plant, shade tree, and street tree. The sap of the tree has been used historically as a substitute for chewing gum.
Adaptation and Distribution
In the wild, sweetgum grows in bottomland areas with rich, moist soil, but can tolerate a variety of soil conditions. The tree does not do well planted in locations where roots are limited in their development. It grows best on moderately coarse to fine soils that are well drained and slightly acid (pH 6.1- 6.5). It develops a deep taproot with numerous highly developed laterals on well drained bottomland sites and a shallow, wide spreading root system on poorly drained sites. Sweetgum is very intolerant to shade but tolerant to flooding. It also tolerates seaside sites if protected from high winds. Sweetgum is distributed throughout the east and southeast portions of the United States.
USDA NRCS National Plant Materials Center (2002). Plant fact sheet for sweetgum (liquidambar styraciflua L.). Retrieved from http://plants.usda.gov/java/factSheet
|whole tree (or vine) - winter|
|bark - unspecified|
|twig - close-up winter terminal bud|
|leaf - showing orientation on twig|
|fruit - section or open|
|fruit - immature|