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Liquidambar styraciflua

“Sweet Gum”

Common Name

“Sweet Gum”


Environment

A hardy tree suitable for most soils including loam or heavy clay, although not in chalky sites. It thrives in a free draining humid area where its beautiful autumn colours will be even more pronounced. It will still establish in wet locations but requires direct light. Its large form and colour is stunning for avenue planting.


Foliage

Renowned as one of the best autumn displays of colour. The 5 star, deeply lobed leaves open a lush vivid green for the spring and summer. In early autumn the veins in the leaf become a skeleton of blood red within the fading green. The rest of the leaf’s blade then melts into ablaze of reds and rich orange hues brushed with yellows. On suitable sites the canopy becomes jaw dropping with fluorescent red and neon purple.


Bark

A unique feature where the bark plates of the central leader attach to the branches. This creates a reptilian scaly appearance which provides the name Alligator-wood. Its deeply grooved, corky bark is fantastic for children’s bark rubbing and offers all year interest.


Size

8m high x 5m wide after 25 years.


With perhaps the finest autumn colour of all trees, this American Sweetgum has become a popular choice for avenues. Native to the humid swampy regions of America, where the Spanish herbalist Francisco Hernandez first came across it He provided the botanical name due to its aromatic gum which he described as Liquidamber. It was the famous British plant collector John Bannister who first introduced it to England in 1681.

This large tree is quite narrow and pyramidal whilst youthful. As it establishes and begins to mature, its branches reach out wider from its strongly upright, central leader. The fissured corky bark attaches and extends along the branches know as cork wings. These grooves appear like scales, giving the name Alligator-wood. In heavy rainfalls during the winter is interesting to watch the water cascade and run through these tunnelled fissures.

In spring the leaves open a vivid healthy green. They are an interesting star shape with usually 5 points that are deeply lobed. These are alternate rather than opposite like the Acer, and when crushed they release a resinous tannin which is pleasantly fragrant.

As summer closes, the green leaf veins become a blood shaded skeleton within. The leaf blade then deepens and becomes the most beautiful display of crimson reds, marmalade orange and amber golds. On favourably moist sites in full sun, the colours intensify further into neon purple and fluorescent bubble gum reds.

Its globed fruit which are known as burr balls grow fresh green in summer. These spikey balls darken in the autumn and can remain on the tree throughout winter. The ones which fall and settle under the canopy have be nicknamed gum sticker balls, which should be considered when designing.

Fantastic as a solitary tree, it also creates stunningly beautiful avenues and broad street planting.