Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is one of around a hundred trees and shrubs that make up the Witch-Hazel family (Hamamelidaceae).  Sweetgum Range map from WikipediaTechnically, it’s not supposed to live around here – the northern most part of its range being southeast New York State.  It’s such a pretty tree, though, that people have engineered several cultivars and plant them as ornamentals.  We have one in the yard near the parking lot at Audubon.

I love the star-shaped leaves and I’m looking forward to the day when our little tree, which supposedly could grow as tall as 80-120 feet, will be mature enough to produce the funny round burr-clusters of seeds.  That could be a while, as they don’t usually produce fruit until they are 20-30 years old.

(There will be those who have Sweetgum trees who will be amused by my “looking forward” to the fruits…  nasty little clusters that wreak havoc with the lawnmower and children’s bare feet!  UPDATE 12/6/08:  In fact, read this blog post about the Not So Sweetgum.)

I became curious about Sweetgum after photographing it in the snow the other day.

Sweet Gum

In his book, Trees of New York, Stan Tekiela claims that Sweetgum is “an important tree commercially, surpassed only by oaks.”  The wood is used for furniture, veneer, barrels, and more.

Sweetgum fruit from WikepediaThe resin (or liquid amber) has been used for a variety of purposes.  Mixed with tobacco, it was smoked.  It has formed the base for some perfumes.

Learn more:

Featured in Festival of the Trees #30.

5 thoughts on “Sweetgum

  1. I’m a fan of the Sweetgum tree, too. The color of the leaves in the fall is just fantastic. I like the new theme you’ve got going here. It’s much cleaner-looking and sleek, in my opinion.

  2. I’ve probably called them maple trees by the look of their leaves. I need to learn more for sure! I have seen those clusters before so I must have been looking at a sweetgum tree unless other kinds of trees have similar. Those clusters do look pretty wicked.

  3. We had one of these trees when I was a kid. I always got stuck with the awful job of raking up the mess it left in our driveway. I don’t want another one. I don’t care how interesting they are. Ann

  4. Pingback: Festival of the Trees #30 | A Neotropical Savanna

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