NAME: American Sweetgum
OTHER COMMON NAMES: Sweet Gum / American Storax / Hazel Pine / Bilsted / Red Gum / White Gum / Satin Walnut / Star-Leaved Gum / Bilsted / Alligatorwood / Alligator Tree
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Liquidambar Styraciflua
COLOR: Yellow Green Flowers / Gum Balls turn from Green to Brown / Amazing Fall Leaf Colors of: Yellow, Orange, Red, & Purple
PLANT SEEDS: Fall / Cold stratify / Indoors weeks before last frost / Outdoors after danger of frost
BLOOM TIME: April - May
HARDINESS ZONE: 5 - 9
PLANT HEIGHT: 60 - 80' (Up to 120' occasionally)
PLANT SPACING: 40 - 60'
LIGHT REQUIREMENTS: Sun - Part Shade
SOIL & WATER PREFERENCES: Average - Moist
QUANTITY: 50 Seeds (northern grown in Ohio)
OTHER: This big beauty is indeed native to North America as well as a few areas in Central America. They are a popular shade tree, beloved for their great coloration & year-round interest in the landscape. I personally have several in my own yard :)
The leaves of the American Sweetgum are a beautiful glossy bright dark green five-pointed star shape with serrated edges. They are large, measuring 3 - 7" wide, & are fragrant when bruised. In fall, the leaves turn the most stunning shade of bright yellow, orange, red & purple. They really put on an incredible show that will rival any maple you wanna pit them against :)
The tree's greenish yellow flowers appear in the spring, & become one of the tree's most recognizable features, the 'gumballs'. The hard spiky fruit starts out bright green & matures to an auburn - brown color. The spike balls measure 1 - 1 1/2" across, & many remain on the tree throughout the winter like ornaments. The spike balls contain the tree's seeds which are a favorite of squirrels, chipmunks, finches, & more. The tree's smaller branches also sometimes have corky-ridges (think of a long narrow fin) running along them. The bark of the tree is deeply ridged, earning it its nicknames of Alligator Tree & Alligatorwood.
The Sweetgum grows well in average soil with average moisture, & does exceptionally well in moist clay soils with poor drainage. Believe me, this is not an exaggeration, sadly this perfectly describes my backyard & my big old trees are doing great. Lol. The trees also have a moderate salt tolerance.
These hardwood trees are grown commercially for their wood that is used to make a wide variety of goods ranging from furniture to flooring to railroad ties & chopsticks, being prized for their beautiful light-colored fine-grained wood.
Sweetgum's botanical name 'Liquidambar' (& the 'gum' part) comes from the pleasingly fragrant gum resin in the tree's bark that resembles liquid amber. Historically, the gum was used for a variety of purposes including medicinally, to make chewing gum, as a flavoring, & in perfumes & incense, exported around the globe.
The spike balls are very unique, & I use them in potpourri & as a 'bowl filler' with other cool botanicals. They absorb scents very well & add a great texture to the mix. They can also be made into a variety of other crafts from cute little hedgehogs to wreaths. We've painted them, glittered them, you name it. :) They can be a lot of fun.
American Sweetgum trees can live for up to 400 years! You aren't just planting a seed, you are planting a legacy that can be enjoyed by many generations of not just humans, but our woodland friends too :)
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Aug 14, 2020