The Sweet Gum Tree

A classic suburban Sweet Gum tree in the Fall.

A forty foot tall Sweet Gum tree rises from the northeast corner of my back yard. On this early spring day, the tree is still a skeleton, although leaf buds are just beginning to emerge and dozens of Sweet Gum balls dangle from its naked branches like shriveled Christmas tree ornaments. Hundreds more lie scattered throughout the grass, and spill out onto the alleyway asphalt, where most are flattened by car wheels. In a few weeks, the Sweet Gum’s glossy green leaves–five pointed stars–will emerge. Then a new crop of gumballs, green throughout the summer, but gradually drying out to become spiky brown seed-carrying hulls. The finches, nuthatches and chickadees will then begin pressing their small beaks into the Sweet Gum balls’ many chambers, extracting the two edible seeds that each chamber contains. Larger bird species with beaks too large to get to the seeds leave these to their smaller competitors. In the fall the Sweet Gum’s leaves will turn yellow, then purple, then red, and will be among the last of the leaves in my yard to drop. One by one, from late fall steadily through the winter, most of the dried out gum balls, long since deprived of their seeds, will drop from the Sweet Gum’s branches.

The bark of the Sweet Gum, sometimes called Alligator Wood.

Liquidambar styraciflua gets its name from the resin the tree produces. It was used to add a distinctive balsamic flavoring to the first pipe of tobacco Aztec Emperor Moctezuma shared with Conquistador Hernando Cortez. Spanish physician and New World explorer Francisco Hernandez became an early convert to its value, claiming it had a range of healing properties. He claimed it was effective in treating gonorrhea and diptheria, was a pain reliever and a sleep aid, and that it “relieve wind in the stomach.” In some parts of the American South, where the tree is abundant, locals call it Alligator Wood because its furrowed and scaly bark resembles the skin of that southern reptile.

Sweet Gum Balls from my yard.

My southeastern Ohio yard is near the northern edge of the Sweet Gum’s natural range. This is a southern tree, and in warmer climates, undisturbed, the tree can reach heights of one hundred or more feet high. Mine has probably reached its peak height, and its natural conical symmetry has been compromised by the regular hair cuts it has received from American Electric Power crews determined to keep its east-reaching branches out of the power lines which run along the edge of my property. My house was built in 1962, by Dr. William and Beatrice Fisk, and while this tree might have preceded the house, it fits so nicely into their carefully designed landscape plan I suspect they deliberately planted it there.

A nuthatch among the Sweet Gum balls.

There was a time not too long ago when the Sweet Gum was a popular choice for suburban yards. It grows relatively fast, has a pleasing symmetrical shape and fabulous fall color. In the mid 1940s, as Dutch Elm disease swept across the midwest, killing off the graceful elms which lined the streets of so many towns, the Sweet Gum was a popular replacement tree. The Arbor Day Foundation gave out thousands of young Sweet Gum saplings to the children of Springfield, Illinois who eagerly planted them along the sidewalks in front of their homes.

A close up look at a Sweet Gum ball.

But today, the Sweet Gum has disappeared from most of the tree nursery catalogs catering to the suburban homeowner, and the Sweet Gum now appears on many top ten lists of the worst trees to plant in your yard. It not only made the list of the “Five Worst Trees for the Lazy Landscaper,” but it was the runaway victor in the website’s “Which of these is your least favorite messy tree?” poll, earning 60% of the votes. The Catalpa came in a distant second place with just 15% of the vote, followed by the Magnolia (13%) Pecan (8%) and Oak (5%). The Sweet Gum’s primary liability, according to the makers of this list, are the thousands of spiny brown seed balls–gum balls if you will–that it casts upon the ground around it.

Birth control injections for Sweet Gum trees.

According to the Lazy Landscaper, these “hard, brown, spiky balls that can create some serious hazards. Not only can they wound you if you slip and fall into them, they can also roll unexpectedly, causing sprained ankles.” Because of their spiky nature, they are difficult to rake up. And don’t try to run your lawnmower over them, Lazy Landscaper warns, as “when airborne they are as dangerous as grenades.” As demand has plummeted for the Sweet Gum some national nurseries like Stark Brothers’ Nurseries responded by offering a hybrid Sweet Gum tree, billed as “nearly gumball free.” But even that was not enough to sustain demand for the increasingly despised Sweet Gum, and Stark Brothers has stopped carrying Sweet Gums altogether. Some Sweet Gum Ball foes have offered another solution–birth control for Sweet Gum Trees. Apparently by drilling a series of holes around the base of a Sweet Gum tree and injecting hormones into each hole you can keep a Sweet Gum tree from fruiting.

Perhaps I need to place this sign near my Sweet Gum tree.

The anti-Sweet Gum movement appears to have reached a new stage in the very town that turned to the Sweet Gum as it grieved the loss of its beloved elms. In 2012, Springfield, Illinois launched a Sweet Gum eradication campaign, offering to remove the tree from the tree lawns of residents, and replace them with a variety deemed more suitable, all for a city-subsidized cost of just $250. The Sweet Gums, even one of its quasi-defenders claims, create a “death-defying obstacle course for distracted walkers, runners, and everyone in between.” And while a few of Springfield’s residents have spoken up for the nuthatches, finches, and chickadees, the bulk of the criticism appears to be coming from residents who believe that the city is not removing these menaces fast enough. Very quickly after announcing the program, Springfield had received requests to remove 338 Sweet Gums, and Springfield’s anti Sweet Gum citizenry are just going to have to be patient.

Now I’ve been pushing my gas powered mower over a lawn full of Sweet Gum balls for years, and have escaped unwounded. And while barefoot walks around my raggedly lawn often yield an unwelcome sharp prod or two from one natural hazard or another, I have managed to escape serious injury. Is my lovely Sweet Gum tree really a hazard to people and pets? Am I failing to be a good citizen by not cutting it down? It didn’t seem right to reject the complaints of the growing anti-Sweet Gum movement out of hand. In the interest of science and good neighborliness, I thought I should conduct a test, with myself as the lab rat. I would conduct my own firewalk of sorts. I would walk barefoot under my Sweet Gum Tree.

Two dangers in this picture: Sweet Gum balls and the blinding white glare of my winter foot.

I confess to having some trepidation during my first naked-footed pass under the Sweet Gum. I stepped gingerly and with much anticipation, keeping one hand hovering above my backyard fence, ready to grab ahold of it should a quick sharp stab cause me to collapse into a bed of thousands of menacing spiked balls. But on my first pass I experienced just a few mildly unpleasant jabs on the bottom of my winter-softened feet. Passes two and three were equally non-eventful, and I grew bolder in my steps. By the fourth pass I was actively looking for Sweet Gum balls to press my arch down upon, and each time I was disappointed by the mildness of the pain, as the grass underneath gave way, cushioning the impact of the Sweet Gum ball’s spikes. I finally I settled upon a more challenging test–I would walk barefoot across the pavement of the adjacent alley, where several Sweet Gumballs were scattered, not yet crushed by passing car wheels. I spotted an especially large one on the pavement and planted one bare foot firmly down upon it. Yes, it hurt a bit. And had I not been prepared for it, it is possible that my knee might have buckled in response to the surprise pain, and I might have tumbled to the pavement, skinning knees and risking infections. Still, my foot got the better of the encounter. The spiky Sweet Gum ball lay crushed and broken on the pavement, and the tender skin under my winter-softened foot remained unbroken.

I have resolved to become a Sweet Gum defender and steward of my town’s remaining Sweet Gum Trees. The finches, nuthatches and chickadees need an ally. Perhaps I will write a song about the Sweet Gum and play it on my ukulele.

Liquid Amber Tree

Liquid amber tree is a highly appreciated ornamental cultivar, characterized by attractive fall foliage, sweet sap, and prickly seedpods. You can include it as a specimen tree or in the garden border to protect your privacy.

As the name signifies, liquid amber is remarkable for its sweet tasting resinous sap. Hence, it is also commonly known as American sweet gum tree. Its leaves are very much similar to maple leaves, in terms of their shape and fall foliage color. Also, both these trees are adapted to similar growing conditions. These often confuse homeowners while including landscaping trees in the yard. With close examination, you can surely differentiate a liquid amber from a maple tree.

This tree has its origin in Mexico, Eastern America, and Central America. Today, this cone-shaped tree has become a popular choice for formal landscape designs. Known scientifically by the name Liquidambar styraciflua, it is a deciduous tree that sheds its foliage during the winter months. The leaves turn brilliant yellow, orange, and purplish red before they shed, thus adding color to the winter garden. The following information will help you understand the requirements for growing sweet gum tree.

Planting Zones USDA zones 5 through 8 (or 9)
Tree Type Ornamental, deciduous tree
Planting side Full sun to partial shade
Propagation Mode Seeds, grafting, and tree saplings
Ideal Soil Moist, well-drained, fertile soil
Preferred Soil pH Both acidic and alkaline soil
Humidity Range Medium humidity
Irrigation Moderate (depends on the season)
Flower shade Yellow, green (Chartreuse)
Blooming Period Mid spring
Growth Rate Slow in the initial stages

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At maturity, the size of a liquid amber is about 15 m in height, with an average spread of 8 m. Some cultivars are evergreen types, and do not show fall foliage. Hence, if you are growing liquid amber just for the sake of adding color to your garden in winter, make it a point to check whether the winter temperatures in your area are favorable for this tree. Another concern with this ornamental tree is the spiked fruits (gumballs), which take a long time for decaying. So, if you are planting it in a traffic area, select seedless varieties of this tree.

Leaf

The color of the serrated leaves is rich green during active growth season. They are arranged in alternate fashion. Each individual leaf has five pointed lobes that are arranged in a star-shaped pattern. The foliage is thick, glossy, and leathery, which is not the case with maple leaves.

Roots

Even though this deciduous tree has a narrow profile, do not make the mistake of planting it in a limited space, as the deep roots may break and penetrate cement foundation in the vicinity. Decide the planting location properly so that you won’t face any problems several years later when the tree reaches maturity.

Pods

For this flowering plant, the seeds are borne in capsules, known as gumballs. They are hard, round in shape, and prickly to the touch. The green capsules turn brownish as they mature, which indicates ripe stage. Liquid amber can be propagated successfully from viable seeds, but the germination time is very long (about two years), after which you need to transplant the seedlings to the selected location.

Planting

For growing this tree from seeds, sow viable seeds from a mature pod after frosting is over in your area. If you are not using seeds, select healthy grafted trees or seed-generated saplings that are about 7 feet in height. Choose a sunny location and prepare the planting soil as mentioned above. Dig a planting hole, large enough to accommodate the root ball. Place it gently without damaging fragile roots, and backfill the soil.

Care

Care for liquid amber requires staking the young tree sapling for support, and watering it regularly to promote quick growth of roots. Watering amount depends on the prevailing environmental conditions. Generally, the growth rate of liquid amber is medium to fast. However, it hardly increases in height for the first two years after plantation.

Watch for signs of disease in a liquid amber, particularly leaf scorch and canker disease. The former causes brown coloration of affected foliage, while the latter affects the tree trunk, causing sunken spots and oozing of sap. If such signs are exhibited, follow cultural practices to contain disease as soon as possible.

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Many American sweetgum or liquidambar trees are declining in inland Southern California due to infection by a bacterial pathogen that causes a disease known as “bacterial scorch.” This pathogen is not new in California, but it is relatively new in liquidambar trees because of the introduction, about 15 years ago, of a new insect pest imported from the southern states called the glassywing sharpshooter, or GWSS as we affectionately call it. This insect, with strong sucking mouth parts, is able to extract sap from twigs of many plants much like an aphid feeds on leaves. In the process of feeding, it injects bacteria from an earlier feed into the vascular tissue of the new host. The bacteria multiply to such high numbers that they literally clog up the plant and water cannot reach the leaves. You may also have noticed a fine “rain” falling from your trees, particularly in winter. This is a kind of sap which passes through the insect during feeding. Studies of the effect of this sap leakage on humans has shown that any more than 4 droplets a minute is quite annoying even if you don’t know it is bug poop. The bacterial disease had a much lower profile before the GWSS arrived because our native sharpshooter doesn’t reach the huge populations that the GWSS does, probably because GWSS is not kept under control by a host of parasitic and predatory organisms found in its native ecosystems.

There is no control for the bacterial disease currently. The course of the disease in any individual tree is unpredictable. Some trees seem to die in as little as two years, while others in thesame stand do not show symptoms for many years. Generally trees decline by death of individual branches at first (Figure 1). You may see many healthy leaves in a tree with major dieback.


Liquidambars

Liquidambars (Liquidambar styraciflua) are native to North America, where they are commonly known as sweetgums. They are large, fast growing deciduous trees, which can reach 25 metres (82′) high and spread to around 12 metres (39′). They’re probably best known for their spectacular orange, purple, red or yellow autumn foliage. There are other varieties of liquidambar besides the well known species, for example there is a compact form called ‘Gumball’, and three new varieties are due for release just in time for autumn 2000 – ‘Gold Dust’, ‘Parasol’ and ‘Rotundiloba’.

Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Gumball’

A dwarf liquidambar which can be grown as a dense shrub reaching only about 1-2 metres (3-6.5′) tall, Gumball is often grafted onto an ordinary liquidambar rootstock about 1.5 metres (4-5′) high. The result is a fantastic, tight ball of shrub on a tall stick, which makes a good focal point in a paved area or courtyard. Autumn foliage is a beautiful burgundy-red colour.

Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Goduzam’ – Gold Dust

Gold Dust has foliage with attractive gold and green variegations, turning to pink and burgundy tones in the autumn. It grows to around 15 metres (49′) tall and 12 metres (39′) wide. The amount of light this tree reflects is amazing, and makes it ideal to use in a dark part of the garden.

Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Parasol’

In the juvenile stage Parasol is an upright tree, but as it grows it loses apical dominance and develops a symmetrical rounded crown. It has mid-green foliage which turns rich plum red in autumn. Parasol is a tough, reliable form of liquidambar which will reach about 10 metres (33′) high and 8 metres (26′) wide.

Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Rotundiloba’

Rotundiloba has dark green foliage turning to burgundy red in autumn, and the leaf lobes are rounded rather than pointed. It is smaller than the species at around 13 metres (43′) tall, and narrowly pyramidal in shape.

Best climate: Liquidambars are best in a cool to mild climate.

Downside:

Liquidambars require an adequate root run. They are large trees with strong roots which can crack concrete. Take care to plant them at least 10 metres (33′) or more from the house.

Care:

Liquidambars prefer a position in full sun in a deep loamy soil. Make sure they are watered regularly and well mulched. Pruning will spoil their natural shape.

Getting started:

Grafted ‘Gumball’ liquidambar is very hard to find. You may have to place an order for one at your local nursery. ‘Parasol’, ‘Rotundiloba’ and ‘Gold Dust’ are due for release in autumn 2000.

Liquidambar Styraciflua Gum Ball

Available Sizes to buy online All Prices Include VAT Height Excluding Pot:
2.5-2.65m (8ft 2-8ft 8)

Plant shape: Full standard

Trunk height: 2-2.2 m

Trunk girth: 6-8 cm

Rootball – supplied without a pot

Plant ID: 4585 80
Was £220.00 40% Off – Now £132.00
Height Excluding Pot:
2.3m (7ft 6)

Plant shape: Full standard

Trunk height: 1.8 m

Pot size: 45 Litres

Plant ID: 5704 B 64
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Liquidambar Styraciflua Gum Ball

This image displays plant 2.3 m tall.

Height Excluding Pot:
2.3m (7ft 6)

Plant shape: Full standard

Trunk height: 1.8 m

Pot size: 45 Litres

Plant ID: 5704 B 64
Was £245.00 40% Off – Now £147.00

Was £245.00 40% Off – Now £147.00
Height Excluding Pot:
2.6m (8ft 6)

Plant shape: Full standard

Trunk height: 2.1 m

Pot size: 45 Litres

Plant ID: 5702 64
Click to view photo of this size

Liquidambar Styraciflua Gum Ball

This image displays plant 2.6 m tall.

Height Excluding Pot:
2.6m (8ft 6)

Plant shape: Full standard

Trunk height: 2.1 m

Pot size: 45 Litres

Plant ID: 5702 64
Was £285.00 40% Off – Now £171.00

Was £285.00 40% Off – Now £171.00
Height Excluding Pot:
80-100cm (2ft 7-3ft 3)

Pot size: 55 Litres

Plant ID: 6113 64
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Liquidambar Styraciflua Gum Ball

This image displays plant 80-100 cm tall.

Height Excluding Pot:
80-100cm (2ft 7-3ft 3)

Pot size: 55 Litres

Plant ID: 6113 64
Was £335.00 40% Off – Now £201.00

Was £335.00 40% Off – Now £201.00
Height Excluding Pot:
1-1.25m (3ft 3-4ft 1)

Plant shape: Ball

Pot size: 55 Litres

Plant ID: 8117 64
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Liquidambar Styraciflua Gum Ball
Liquidambar is a small genus of deciduous trees with maple-like alternate leaves that usually colour well in autumn. Liquidambar Styraciflua Gum Ball, also called Sweet Gum Gum Ball is the perfect sweet gum tree for small gardens! A dwarf cultivar of the North American native deciduous tree Liquidambar Styraciflua it was discovered in Tennessee in 1965 and grafted onto a clear stem to create an attractive round crown. Along with the deeply ribbed grey bark, the rounded mophead of this cultivar provide interest even in winter when its branches are bare. In late spring the maple-shaped, deeply lobed light green leaves emerge and darken to a deep glossy green over the summer until they turn bright shades of orange, red and purple in autumn, sometimes remaining on the tree well into the winter. Its insignificant flowers of April and May produce small, brown spiky balls which remain on the tree after the leaves have fallen.

Height and Spread of Liquidambar Styraciflua Gum Ball
Liquidambar Styraciflua Gum Ball will grow to 1.5-2.5 metres high in 10 years, slowly reaching a mature height of 3-5 metres and spread of 2-4 metres.

How Hardy Is Liquidambar Styraciflua Gum Ball?
Liquidambar Styraciflua Gum Ball is fully hardy in the UK.

How to Use Liquidambar Styraciflua Gum Ball
Sweet Gum Gum Ball can be used in gardens large and small with equal effectiveness. The small size of this Sweet Gum tree makes it ideal for patios and courtyard settings, where all the glory of a Liquidambar Styraciflua’s autumn colour can be enjoyed in a smaller package! Liquidambar Gum Ball is equally well-suited to being planted in symmetrical pairs in a formal garden, or used in an informal cottage garden as a bright focal point in autumn.

How to Care for Liquidambar Styraciflua Gum Ball
Plant Liquidambar Styraciflua Gum Ball in full sun or partial shade in moist but well-drained fertile sand, clay, or loam soil with an acid to neutral pH. Avoid very windy spots. Moderately tolerant of both aerosol salt and pollution, Sweet Gum Gum Ball can be planted in both coastal regions and cities. They are deer-resistant and so can be planted without special protection on country properties. Pruning to maintain the rounded shape of the crown can be done in winter.

Liquidambar Styraciflua Gum Ball brings all the glory of a full-grown Sweet Gum tree to smaller spaces- the attractive mophead and brilliant autumn colour can fit into almost any UK garden!

FREQUENTLY BOUGHT WITH >>Liquidambar Styraciflua American SweetgumLiquidambar Styraciflua Lane Roberts SweetgumLiquidambar Styraciflua Golden TreasureAthyrium Niponicum Var Pictum – Painted Fern

Liquidamber Sweet Gum

Highly recommended ! This gorgeous beacon of autumn will look great as a specimen tree to draw the eye at this time of year, especially in the sun when its leaves colour will deepen. Liquidamber styraciflua (Sweet Gum) -The Autumn foliage colours of sweet gum are superb. The leaves are lustrous green all summer, then the foliage turns the most stunning range of reds, scarlets, purples and yellows in autumn. The Sweet Gum with its heavy crown of rich green, shiny, big star-like leaves has few equals for summer foliage and autumn colours. A genus of hardy, deciduous trees of upright habit and cultivated mainly for their maple-like foliage. Suitable as specimens or for woodland gardens. Seed capsules, which are superficially like London plane, are globular inflorescences suspended on a thin flexible peduncle. Sweet Gum will grow on most soils where there is adequate moisture, trees grown in a rich, damp soil in full sun will colour best. Sweet gum was introduced to Fulham Palace in 1681. The name alludes to the yellowish-brown gum that exudes from bark fissures. It hardens when exposed to the air. Although bitter to the taste it was used in America as chewing gum to sweeten the breath. Heartwood, only sparingly produced in Britain, is called satin walnut, a fine timber prized by cabinet makers.

How to Identify Maple Trees and Liquid Amber Trees

maple tree image by Betty Oesterling from Fotolia.com

Maple (Acer spp.) and liquid amber trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) are similar-looking trees that grow in similar climates. Both maples and liquid amber trees, also known as American sweetgum trees, are prized for their sap. Maples and sweet gum trees grow best in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 8 or 9, enduring minimum winter temperatures down to minus-15 degrees Fahrenheit. Some maples can also grow in Zones 3 and 4, however, where winter temperatures get as cold as minus-35 degrees.

red maple tree image by Giovanni Aquaro from Fotolia.com

Look for a 40- to 60-foot tall tree with a 40-foot spread that has green stems turning red in the fall and winter to spot the red maple (Acer rubrum). The red maple tree’s leaves turn deep red or yellow in fall, are oppositely arranged on the stems and are 2 to 6 inches long with three to five triangular lobes. The red maple blooms in clusters of tiny red flowers during winter and spring.

red maple leaf image by Horticulture from Fotolia.com

Identify the Japanese red maple (A. palmatum atropurpureum) by its small size, growing to only 15 to 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide as a small tree or multiple-stemmed shrub. The Japanese red maple has deeply lobed, red to reddish-purple leaves that are most vibrant in the spring and fall. The leaves are oppositely arranged on the stems and about 4 inches long with five to nine symmetrical lobes that fan out from a single central point.

spider on the green leaf of maple tree image by starush from Fotolia.com

Spot the silver maple (A. saccharinum) by its leaves that are green on top and a silvery-whitish color on the undersides. Growing 50 to 80 feet tall, the silver maple has a vase-shaped canopy and tiny yellowish-red flowers in early to mid-March. The leaves are 3 to 6 inches long and wide with five distinctly separated lobes.

sugar maple leaves image by citylights from Fotolia.com

Identify the sugar maple (A. saccharum) by its dark-green leaves that turn yellow, rusty orange or slightly reddish in the fall and are 3 to 5 inches wide with five distinct lobes. The sugar maple can reach mature heights of 60 to 75 feet with a 40- to 50-foot spread. This maple tree is known for its sap used in making syrups.

Spot the Tatarian maple (A. tataricum) by its low growth habit, reaching only 15 to 20 feet tall and wide. This maple tree has a rounded shape with medium-green leaves that turn yellow, reddish or reddish-brown in the fall. The Tatarian maple is grown either as a multiple-stemmed shrub or a small tree.

Look for a small ornamental tree with dark-green leaves and a rounded shape, reaching a mature height of 20 to 30 feet, to identify the trident maple (A. buergerianum). The trident maple’s leaves turn yellow, orange or reddish in the fall.

Identify the American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), also known as the liquid amber tree, by looking for its glossy, star-shaped leaves that turn yellow, orange, purple or red in the fall. Growing 60 to 70 feet tall and 45 feet wide, the sweetgum tree has an oval or pyramidal shaped canopy. A liquid amber-colored sap can be extracted from the tree’s trunk and branches.

Liquidambar

Common Name

sweet gum

Traits

  • Sun
  • Feature

Flowering Season

Spring

Genus

Liquidambar is a genus of 4 species of deciduous trees in the witchhazel (Hamamelidaceae) family. With a somewhat discrete distribution range, these trees are found in North and Central America, East Asia, and Turkey. These impressive trees produce some of the most spectacular autumn foliage known, and Liquidambar styraciflua, in particular, is a breathtaking sight when in full autumn colour. The genus name literally means liquid amber, and refers to the resin exuded by the winter buds. Known as storax, the resin is used in perfumery and cosmetics.

Appearance

Sweet gums have a conical or rounded form. Resembling the maple leaf in shape, the leaves of Liquidambar species are palmately lobed and arranged spirally on the twigs, and variegated cultivars are available. In spring, small spherical heads of tiny greenish flowers appear, and while the blooms are inconspicuous, they are followed by distinctive, spiky, woody seed capsules.

Cultivation

Sweet gums are hardy trees and are easily grown in a temperate climate. However, their large size requires a reasonable space in which to grow, so they are best suited to large gardens or parks. They do best in a bright sunny position with deep, fertile, well-drained soil that remains moist in summer. Propagate the species from seed, cultivars from softwood cuttings.

Gardening Australia suggests you check with your local authorities regarding the weed potential of any plants for your particular area.

© Global Book Publishing (Australia) Pty Ltd from Flora’s Gardening Cards

Liquidambar | Sweet Gum Trees

Liquidambar is a small genus of large deciduous trees although we offer a narrow columnar version ideal for small gardens. As well as the wonderful aesthetics of the 3 to 7 lobed palmate leaves, the leaves also have a pleasant aroma, especially when crushed. Liquidambar bark is grey with vertical grooves and the flowers are small but appear in dense clusters. Liquidambar trees produce fruits called ‘gumballs’ which are woody balls with spikes containing lots of seeds. It is thought the fruits have spikes so to attach themselves to the fur of small animals to help in dispersing the seeds.

History and Uses of Liquidambar Trees

The common name Sweet Gum comes from the thick sap it produces. Named by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 from the Latin liquidus meaning fluid and the Arabic ambar in reference to the sap which oozes from the bark when wounded. The hardened sap can be chewed like gum and has been used like this for many years in southern parts of the US. Other names include star-leaved gum and redgum.

Liquidambar trees were first introduced to the UK by John Bannister, a U.S botanist, in 1681. Bannister was employed by Henry Compton the Bishop of London who planted the trees in the Fulham Palace gardens. However, the Spanish naturalist Hernandez was the first European to discover the tree in the early 16th century.

Classed as a hardwood and second only to Oak, the attractive wood of Liquidambar trees has been used for making furniture and baskets, as well as applied as a veneer for plywood. The reddish coloured wood is used as imitation mahogany.

Used in Chinese Herbal medicine, the spikey fruit called lu lu tong meaning ‘all roads open’ has been used to promote blood movement, and treating abdominal, back and knee pain.

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