Also known as the American sweetgum, this tree is a native to the United States. It is a member of the witch hazel family of plants and is botanically known as Liquidambar styraciflua.
Growing to 75 feet high typically but up to 130 feet high in the wild, this large perennial tree has a straight trunk and large aromatic leaves. Crown is round. Leaves are glossy green, star-shaped, and deciduous. The green leaves turn red and purple in the fall. Horny balls of fruit hang off the tree.
The sweetgum prefers to grow in partial shade and in moist acidic soils. It is cold tolerant but not drought tolerant. It grows quickly and lives a long time. Propagate by seed or cuttings. Seed needs one to two months of cold stratification. Cuttings should have a heel to be rooted.
The sweetgum is found in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. It is seen in coastal plants and moist woods.
Seeds bring many bird species into the landscape. Small mammals consume the fruit. The plant itself is a good cover and nesting site.
It has been used to suppress menstrual flow and as contraception. A leaf tea was made for wound washing as well as a root decoctim made as a wound salve. The bark has been an astringent in old folklore remedies.
It is prone to iron chlorosis whenever the soil is too alkaline. Fruits that fall from the tree may jam lawnmowers as it doesn’t decay and decompose easily.
It is an important timber tree, second only to the oak tree. It is used for boxes, furniture, veneer, plywood, and cabinetry. The resin-like substance from the bark was an old Pioneer gum.