Sweet Gum

Liquidambar styraciflua
Hamamelidaceae (witch hazels)

A large tree with a long, cylindrical trunk, pyramidal crown and corky wings on branches and twigs.

Leaves alternate, simple, star-shaped, with 5 (sometimes 7) lobes, 3–6 inches wide, deeply lobed; margin toothed, tips long-pointed; leaves slightly aromatic when bruised.

Bark brown to gray, very rough with deep grooves and narrow, slightly scaly ridges.

Twigs reddish- or yellowish-brown becoming gray, aromatic, often with corky wings on second-year’s growth; pores raised, dark.

Flowers April–May, with male and female flowers on the same twig; male flowers greenish-yellow, on an upright stalk in several tight, rounded clusters; female flowers in a single, drooping, round cluster about ½ inch in diameter.

Fruit matures in September–October, persists through winter; light brown, globe-shaped, formed by the union of multiple individual fruits, hard, spiny due to numerous woody, hornlike projections, 1–1½ inches in diameter.

Height: to 130 feet; spread: to 60 feet.
Habitat and conservation: 
In nature, occurs in rich, moist bottomland soils in valleys and along streams. Cultivated in landscapes, it is rapid-growing, long-lived, and relatively free from insect pests and disease. A popular urban tree. The city of St. James is called the “sweet gum capital of Missouri” for its streets lined with the tree. The star-shaped leaves of sweet gum become even more striking in the autumn, when they turn various shades of gold, red, pink and purple, often on the same tree.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Naturally occurring populations are limited to southeastern Missouri, but widely planted statewide.
Human connections: 
Popular for landscaping, though the many spiny fruits can be a messy problem for high-traffic areas. A mulch bed under the tree helps. Historically, the hardened sap was chewed like gum for pleasure as well as for medicinal purposes. The wood becomes flooring, furniture and much more.
Ecosystem connections: 
The seeds are eaten by many species of birds, including goldfinch, purple finch and wood duck, as well as by squirrels and chipmunks.
Shortened URL