AMERICAN SWEETGUM(*)

Liquidambar styraciflua

American Sweetgum, Liquidamber styraciflua, are native, woody, deciduous hardwood trees common throughout the US.  They are considered Keystone Trees which support 34 species of butterflies (Lepidoptera).  They make popular shade trees because of their stately nature — 60 to 100 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 4 feet or more — and because of their stunning fall color, which varies between brilliant yellow, orange, red and purple.

They get both their common and scientific names from the gummy sap they produce. Located under the tree’s bark, the sap seeps out whenever a tree is wounded. It was dubbed “liquid amber” because of its color and sweet smell. Sweetgum grows in full sun to partial shade in neutral to acidic soil that is moist yet well-drained. It is resistant to fire, heat, drought, soil compaction, deer and rabbits.

Young Sweetgum trees are known to develop woody ribbons or corky “wings” along their branches. Some homeowners don’t like Sweetgum trees because their spikey burr-like fruit litters the ground, but the seeds are well-liked by birds and other wildlife. If you want a Sweetgum without gumballs, there are fruitless varieties available.

What to know before planting a tree:  The tree has a shallow root system and should be planted in spring because roots take three to four months to recover from the shock of transplanting. Propagate sweetgum by seed.

Given its height and a width — spanning 40 to 50 feet — American sweetgum is a perfect shade tree. It is also a good addition to a woodland or recreational play area and children’s, edible, native, nighttime or pollinator gardens. They grow in a pyramidal shape that becomes oval or rounded as they grow into maturity, and they produce both male and female flowers on the same tree. They need plenty of room for proper root development. They need at least six hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight every day. They can grow in acidic, loamy, moist, sandy, well-drained, or wet clay soils.

Although they are heat tolerant, they are only moderately drought tolerant, so you should monitor your Sweetgum during the summer months or periods of drought and use supplemental water to keep your tree at optimal health. The tree attracts songbirds, small mammals, moths and pollinators.

SPECS: Native Name: Algonquin; Genus: Liquidambar ; Species: Styraciflua; Plant Type: Tree; Life Cycle: Perennial; Sun Exposure: Full Sun, Part Shade; Soil Moisture: Wet, Medium Wet, Mesic (middle); Height: 20′ — 100′; Spread: 50′; Plant Spacing: 30′ — 60′; Bloom Time: March — May; Bloom Color: Gold, Orange, Purple, Red, Yellow; Advantages: Birds, Medicinal uses, Nitrogen fixer, Pollinators, Privacy screen, Showy; USDA Zone: 5 — 9; Attracts: Beneficial insects, Songbirds; Tolerant: Adapted to fire, Clay, Deer, Drought, Rabbits, Wet soils; Plant Community: It is tough to grow ground covers in the dry shade. Try these: Lycopodium digitatum (fan clubmoss), & Potentilla simplex (common cinquefoil).;