Connected Sustainability | Sweet Gum
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Liquidambar styraciflua L.

Sweet Gum


How To Recognize Me

Liquidambar styraciflua L. is a native deciduous shade tree with a straight trunk that develops an oval-rounded crown as it matures. Glossy, long-stalked, deep green 4-7” leaves have toothed margins and 5-7 pointed star-shaped lobes. Leaves are fragrant when bruised. Fall color at its best is a brilliant mixture of yellows, oranges, purples and reds. Branchlets may have distinctive corky ridges.


I Am Special to People

“Sweet gum” refers to an aromatic balsam or gum that exudes from wounds to the tree. It was used in the past for a variety of purposes, including chewing gum, incense, perfumes, folk medicines and flavorings. Tree wood is used in many applications, including railroad ties, flooring, furniture and home interiors. Female flowers give way to gumballs, which are hard, spherical, bristly fruiting clusters to 1.5” diameter. Gumballs mature to dark brown and usually remain on the tree through the winter, creating cleanup and human safety issues from December through April as the clusters fall.


I Am Special to My Watershed

Liquidambar styracifua is an excellent shade, lawn or park tree but must be planted with room to grow. Trees are fast growing and resistant to insect attack, which makes them useful in land reclamation and reforestation projects. Sweet gum trees also fix nitrogen in the soil and improve its fertility.

I Hold a Special Place In History

Sweet gum trees have various medicinal uses. Their fruit is believed to be effective against rheumatic pain. The bark has astringent properties and addresses dysentery and diarrhea. Gum resin from the trees has anti- inflammatory and expectorant properties. Boiled and cooled sap from sweet gum makes a medicinally potent balm to treat various ailments, including skin problems. Native American Cherokee tribes applied resin from the tree to treat wounds.


The Facts

  • Height: 60’ – 80’
  • Spread: 40’ – 60’
  • Sun: full sun
  • Soil: medium moisture; deep, well-drained, fertile
  • Bloom Time: April to May Bloom Description: yellow-green Flower: yellow-green flowers in spherical clusters
  • Fruit: gumballs
  • Tolerate: rabbit, deer, clay soil Suggested Use: shade tree
Noted Trees