Sweet gum trees make beautiful additions to landscapes. Their size and large, full crowns provide abundant shade to gardens, sidewalks, parks and streets. Their foliage takes on a range of fall colors, including orange, to yellow, red and purple, livening up the landscape. Sweet gum trees also serve as privacy barriers and provide seclusion in gardens.
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A Floridata Plant Profile 270 Liquidambar styraciflua
Common Names: sweetgum, redgum
Family: Hamamelidaceae (witch-hazel Family)
Sweetgum is a large deciduous hardwood tree that can grow to height over 100 ft (30.5 m). When grown in the open, sweetgum forms beautifully symmetric, cone shaped crown that becomes more rounded as the tree reaches maturity. This tree is readily identified by its star shaped, palmate leaves that are 4-7 in (10-17.8 cm) in diameter. Its blooms are inconspicuous, but it is sweetgum’s infamous fruits that let you know there’s a sweetgum around – especially when you step on one barefoot. About 1-1.5 in (2.5-3.8 cm) in diameter, these are hard spiny golf ball size brown spheres that can be seen dangling from trees after the leaves drop. They often release their little seeds before they fall from the tree which aids in dispersal. On a good site, sweetgum can grow to be a true forest giant.
Sweetgum is most commonly found growing on bottomland sites, but it tolerates a wide variety of conditions.
Light: Full sun to filtered shade.
Moisture: Best on moist, well drained sites. But will succeed on drier spots and is even rather drought resistant.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 – 9.
Sweetgum is noted for its fast growth, large size, and beautiful fall colors. It is not usually bothered by pests or disease and will tolerate both drought and wet flooded soils. Sweetgum is a favorite of yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Look for their parallel rows of little square holes in the bark.
The spiny fruit pods are fairly objectionable, especially on lawns and sidewalks. The limbs drop fairly easily. This tree has a tendency to spread quickly on fertile moist sites and could become a pest if not controlled.