Liquidambar styraciflua- Luisa Alfaro and Camila Ochoa

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Latin Name

Liquidambar styraciflua

Common Name(s)

American sweetgum is also known as red gum, sapgum, starleaf-gum, hazel pine, American-storax, bilsted, red gum, satin walnut, star-leaved gum, and alligator-wood.

Plant Family

Altingiaceae, but was formerly considered a member of the Hamamelidaceae.

Plant Description


Medium-sized to large tree, growing anywhere from 33–50 feet and up to 150 feet. Can grow 500-1000 years and grows at a rapid rate.


Most sweet gum are deciduous trees, a few are semi-evergreen and evergreen trees.

General Characteristics

Trunk can grow up to 2–3 feet in diameter.


Leaf Description

The leaves are arranged alternate and have a distinct five sharply pointed palmate lobes at the apex. They are 3-5 inches wide on average and have three distinct bundle scars arranged. They are long and broad, with a 6–10 cm petiole. Unlike maple tree leaves, they are glossy, thick and leathery smooth, shiny, star-shaped leaves. In active growing seasons, the leaves are lustrous and dark green in color. As fall arrives, the leaf color turns vibrant orange, red and purplish.



Flower Description

The flowers typically appear in March to May and persist into Autumn, sometimes persisting into the Winter. They are about 1–1.5 inches in diameter, covered with rusty hairs, uni sexual, and green in color.


Seed Description

The harden ovaries create the fruit which is hard, dry, and globose, 1–1.5 inches in diameter, composed of numerous (40-60) capsules. Each capsule, containing one to two small seeds, has a pair of terminal spikes (for a total of 80-120 spikes). When the fruit opens and the seeds are released, each capsule is associated with a small hole (40-60 of these) in the compound fruit. The opened fruits are often abundant beneath the trees and popularly nicknamed "gum balls."



Bark/Stem Description

The bark is whitish grey with dark streaks and corky growth weighing 37 pounds per cubic foot. It has scaly ridges and branches that carry layers of cork. The branchlets are pithy, many-angled, winged, and at first covered with rusty hairs, finally becoming red brown, gray or dark brown. The wood is heavy and hard with an interlocking grain.


Other Information

Liquidambar is a common bottom-land species of the South where it grows biggest and is most abundant in the lower Mississippi Valley. It is one of the most important commercial hardwoods in the Southeast and the handsome hard wood is put to a great many uses. The small seeds are eaten by birds, squirrels, and chipmunks. It is sometimes used as a shade tree. It is mostly used in large parking lot islands, wide tree lawns, reclamation plants, shade tree specimen and residential street tree.

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Distinguished by star-shaped glossy leaves with 5 to 7 lobes, dark green in spring and summer and turning a brilliant gold and orange in autumn.

Collection Location on GGC’s Campus

Behind Building B



Sweet gum trees occur in moist or wet woods, tidal swamps, along stream banks, in clearings and old fields, and in low swampy bottom lands where they often form pure stands.

Historic Range

Sweet gum grows from Connecticut southward throughout the East to central Florida and eastern Texas. It is found as far west as Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma and north to southern Illinois. It also grows in scattered locations in northwestern and central Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

Range Map


Cultural Information

Native Americans used to chew the hardened resin from the bark of sweetgum trees obtained by peeling the bark and scraping off the resin-like solid. This gum was used medicinally as well as for chewing gum. They also made various teas and medicines to treat dysentery and diarrhea from the bark and roots of sweetgum. It is reported to be excellent for healing wounds. The wood of the sweetgum is second only to oak in being used for furniture, wooden boxes, musical instruments, flooring, and composite products. It has been cultivated in North America since the 1680.


This page was created by:

Camila Ochoa
Luisa Alfaro
Dr. Melissa Caspary as a sample/reference page for BIOL 3310K WIKI assignment lab

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