Liquidambar styraciflua, commonly called sweet gum, is a low-maintenance deciduous shade tree that is native to eastern North America, Mexico and Central America. It grows in forests and woodlands at lower elevations. It typically grows to 60-80’ (less frequently to 120’) tall with a straight trunk. Habit is pyramidal in youth, but it gradually develops an oval-rounded crown as it matures. Glossy, long-stalked, deep green leaves (4-7” across) have toothed margins. Each leaf has 5-7 pointed, star-shaped lobes. Leaves are fragrant when bruised. Fall color at its best is a brilliant mixture of yellows, oranges, purples and reds. Branchlets may have distinctive corky ridges. Non-showy, monoecious, yellow-green flowers appear in spherical clusters in April-May. Female flowers give way to the infamous gum balls which are hard, spherical, bristly fruiting clusters to 1.5” diameter. Gum balls mature to dark brown and usually remain on the tree through the winter. Tree wood has been widely used for a number of applications including flooring, furniture and home interiors. The common name of sweet gum refers to an aromatic balsam or gum that exudes from wounds to the tree. The gum obtained from genus plants has been used in the past for a variety of purposes, including chewing gum, incense, perfumes, folk medicines and flavorings.
It is easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Intolerant of shade. Prefers deep, moist, fertile soils, but seems to tolerate a wide variety of soils. It thrives in full sun and moist, fast-draining soil. Liquidambar trees grow best from seed, which germinate quickly when exposed to consistently warm temperatures. The seeds will sprout without special pretreatment or scarification; however, cold stratification will help enhance their performance by fulfilling their dormancy requirement. Garden Uses. Excellent shade, lawn or park tree. Must be planted in large area with room to grow. Hardiness zones 5-9.
The seeds have a period of dormancy. They can be planted outdoors in the fall or winter for spring germination or they can be cold stratified to simulate winter conditions and to break their dormancy at any time of the year.
- Place the seeds in a plastic bag and seal it. Store the bag in a refrigerator for 1-2 months.
- The seeds like moist, well-drained soil. Fill a pot with a mixture of half potting soil and half sand or vermiculite.
- Sow the seeds on the soil and cover them with a thin layer of soil.
- Water the container.
- Put the pot in a warm, sunny area.
- Water the pot regularly so that the soil is moist but not wet.
- The seedlings can be transplanted when they are a few inches tall.