Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is one of around a hundred trees and shrubs that make up the Witch-Hazel family (Hamamelidaceae). Technically, 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.
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.
Featured in Festival of the Trees #30.