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PlantFiles: Sweetgum, Red Gum, Liquid Amber
Liquidambar styraciflua

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Family: Hamamelidaceae
Genus: Liquidambar (lih-kwid-AM-bar) (Info)
Species: styraciflua (sty-rak-ee-FLOO-uh) (Info)

9 vendors have this plant for sale.

16 members have or want this plant for trade.

Category:
Trees

Height:
over 40 ft. (12 m)

Spacing:
over 40 ft. (12 m)

Hardiness:
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 C (30 F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 C (35 F)

Sun Exposure:
Sun to Partial Shade

Danger:
N/A

Bloom Color:
Chartreuse (Yellow-Green)

Bloom Time:
Mid Spring

Foliage:
Deciduous

Other details:
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

Patent Information:
Unknown - Tell us

Propagation Methods:
From seed; direct sow after last frost

Seed Collecting:
Bag seedheads to capture ripening seed

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There are a total of 61 photos.
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Profile:

10 positives
5 neutrals
7 negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

RatingAuthorContent
Negative hateliquidambar On Apr 18, 2013, hateliquidambar from Mountain View, CA wrote:

This morning, on my walk through the park, I once again stepped on one of those horrid seed pods, twisted my ankle, fell hard to the pavement, injuring my knee, wrist, and scraping my hands. This is at least the third time this has happened to me in the last decade. Cities around here planted these trees everywhere back in the 60s as street trees. (Though the one that caused me trouble today is in someone's backyard, but overhangs the park, which is where I had my fall this morning.) Everyone I know who lives here hates them. The pods puncture bike tires, people fall on them, they get stuck in stroller wheels; and the roots tear up lawns and sidewalks. The autumn color is pretty, but beyond that, they are really not a particularly nice shape for a street tree -- and they are a hazard to pedestrians. They are probably great trees if you have a big piece of property, where you can see them from a distance, and not worry about the roots and the seed pods, but in a dense suburb they are the worst trees ever.

Negative uglysteve On Oct 12, 2011, uglysteve from Apache Junction, AZ wrote:

This tree was for sale at a local garden center so I thought I would give it a try. I have been trying to get something with maple like leafs to grow here. I'm in the desert at 1800 feet. Sunset zone 12, soil is about PH 7.5, sandy and fast draining, in a wash, so it gets flooded about 10 times a year. Full sun. The tree has been in the ground about 2 years. It is not doing well, and may be dead. I will find out next spring. It looses all its leafs in August. Has problems with heat and soil. There are a lot of days over 110F. Growing next to Freemont and Lance leaf cottonwoods who are tolerating the conditions. Not a good tree for the desert.

Negative pjoid123 On Sep 12, 2011, pjoid123 from Spotsylvania, VA wrote:

I live in a wooded area in Virginia. The sweetgum tree is about the worst piece of vegetation on my property. I've twisted my ankle a number of times on the seed pods (gumballs). They do have a nice purple color during the fall, but they are a messy tree. The last time I had a diseased tree removed I also had the tree service cut down and remove a number of sweetgum trees around my deck.

Negative themikeman On Mar 17, 2011, themikeman from Concord, NC (Zone 7a) wrote:

I Live in a house in NC with a 1.5 acre front yard where 7 sweetgum trees were planted in 1942 when the house was built so they are now huge trees. Who in their right mind would plant 7 of these nasty sweetgum ball trees. We will have to rake up sweetgum balls from late January till the first week in May. It is back breaking and i am now disabled and can no longer rake them. yes, it is back breaking labor and they are exremely heavy in large piles to bag for even the healthiest grown man and they can be sharp like a razor if one of their spikes get under your finger nailbeds ouch!!. just a nasty buck eye ball like pod producing tree.

Neutral cel41862 On Sep 8, 2010, cel41862 from Summerville, SC wrote:

I have a sweet gum tree in my side yard that is about 80 to 100 ft tall. I Love this tree but there is a problem!!! We moved in to this house and the tree was already here, and it has this huge vine that is growing in it. The vine has pretty much taken over the tree. The other thing is that the base of the tree has a hole in it. I will try to get a picture on here so you can see, but the base is split right after the hole. In other words there is like two trees growing from one base. I have no idea if this tree can be saved but I would really like to if possible.Could someone please help with this? Can this tree be saved or is it pretty much history? The hole at the bottom of the tree almost looks like a hobbit home if that helps.LOL

Positive Wolfgang_E_B On Apr 23, 2009, Wolfgang_E_B from Fulton, MO wrote:

This tree is definitely hardy well into zone 5. We had big, old trees all over Missouri when I was a kid (about 40 years ago), in areas only recently reclassed as zone 6 due to climate change. Many of those trees are still standing.

While I'm not crazy about the spiked balls, the autumn color and scent of the foliage, especially after a rain, make it worthwhile in my opinion.

Positive rntx22 On Aug 18, 2008, rntx22 from Houston, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:

My mom planted one of these in our backyard when I was little. It is now about 20 years old. I would say that it is kind of a slow grower in my region. In Houston, we don't really see the 4 seasons (it goes from summer to winter it seems!!) so any tree that gives good fall color is a plus in my book. Just watch out for the spiny balls.

As for suckers or offshoots, in all 20 years of having this tree, this was the first year a little tree started to grow off one of the surface roots. I wanted to try and harvest it somehow to make 2 trees, but there was no way to remove it without cutting it off of the main trees root. Oh well.

Positive robcorreia On Mar 18, 2008, robcorreia from San Diego, CA (Zone 10b) wrote:

I have many of those on my front yard. Beautiful! I LOVE the little balls, and so do the goldfinches that flock to my garden all winter long and hang onto them to eat the seeds.

I also found out those are GREAT SLUG REPELLANTS. Just circle your affected plants with the pods and slugs will stay away!

Negative gooley On Dec 12, 2006, gooley from Hawthorne, FL (Zone 8b) wrote:

I have at least ten acres of these on my 36-acre patch of north Florida, and they are trying to take over everything. They are attractive, fast-growing, producing some winter color -- but they also sucker like mad. I have about a 6-acre patch of solid sweetgum, skinny trees about 50-60 feet tall and very thin and very close together; most of them if not all seem to share a root system, rather like a grove of aspen in the high Rockies. Between the "gum ball" spiky seed-bearing fruit and the long-ranging roots (suckers thirty feet or more from the nearest tree, and I pulled up the connecting root so they weren't seedlings) mine spread great distances and are not easily removed.

These trees are native as far south as Honduras (in the mountains there, mind you). The wood is vastly underrated as a cabinet wood: it is quite lovely but almost never offered; it used to be sold as "satin walnut" due to the satiny look the interlocked grain provides. As firewood, the logs' unwillingness to split (interlocked grain again) makes them less than desirable, although they burn well and with reasonable heat value. I'm told that logs and stumps are good for growing shiitake mushrooms on.

Maybe some cultivars or hybrids or other members of the genus don't produce the spiky balls and don't sucker. The species, at least here, is more of a nuisance than a tree to be sought out and planted on purpose.

Positive frostweed On Nov 30, 2006, frostweed from Josephine, Arlington, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:

Sweetgum, Red Gum Liquidambar styraciflua is native to Texas and other States. This is a beautiful tree.

Positive jon3333 On Sep 22, 2006, jon3333 from New Berlin, WI wrote:

Great fall color! I like the interesting star shaped leaves in the summer and the unique bark in the winter. Planted 2 trees in the front yard AWAY from my house and so far they have grown wonderfully. I would keep this tree away from anything you don't want the gum balls to fall on.

Neutral raisedbedbob On Feb 6, 2006, raisedbedbob from Walkerton, VA (Zone 7a) wrote:

According to the Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, the hardened sap that exudes from wounds in the tree has been used as a substitute for chewing gum in the South.

Positive Sarahskeeper On Nov 6, 2005, Sarahskeeper from Brockton, MA (Zone 6a) wrote:

When I first moved into this new house I planted 2 Sweetgum trees in the front lawn.
They are seldom seen around here and I liked the shape, autumn color and quick growth.
Fortunately my trees produce very few seed.
The leaves have a nice evergreen fragrance when crushed and the bark on young branches has long cork like spines, interesting.
Now, 19 years later there are some shallow roots that make mowing tricky but otherwise I'm very pleased.
They have withstood 80 MPH winds, drought and blizzards with little damage.
Andy P

Neutral escambiaguy On Sep 29, 2005, escambiaguy from Atmore, AL (Zone 8b) wrote:

This tree is very common here in S.Alabama. It grows along roadsides everywhere(which is why it is never planted). The seed balls can be a nuisance to some people.However,it is a fast growing tree for shade. Sweetgums seem to tolerate high winds very well. I saw very few of them blown over after the hurricanes.

Positive TREEHUGR On Nov 13, 2004, TREEHUGR from Now in Orlando, FL (Zone 9b) wrote:

In response to the negative comment,
This tree is native to much of the northern half of the state of Florida. As for the fall color, there are numerous pictures online to prove it's a beautiful tree in the fall.

Commercial value? It's valuable alright! Second only to oak amongst hardwoods for furniture, flooring etc.

It's not an invasive species and could hardly be considered a weed in zone 10. I think it would struggle to even survive in southwest florida where the negative commentor is. It's a fast growing shade tree, and seems to do o.k. here although I lost a few. Still not sure what happened to them but I really don't think they like this horrible fill they haul in here even though they supposedly tolerate a wide variety of soils, the only specimins I had succeed where on natural ground.

On mature trees, the seedballs are problematic for some people and if you use a rotary mower, you would want to look out for them.

Positive melody On Nov 11, 2004, melody from Benton, KY (Zone 7a) wrote:

Even though it produces the stickery seed balls, I still love this tree. It has glorious autumn color here in West KY and the trees are so uniform in shape, they look like beautiful columns of red or gold.

When my Mom sold the farm where we grew up, one of the things I transplanted to my yard was a Sweetgum seedling dug from the fencerows. It has rewarded me with a lovely maroon showing this year, and though it is much too small yet to produce seedballs, it is in a corner of the property, away from walkways and gutters.

Negative IslandJim On Oct 31, 2004, IslandJim from Keizer, OR (Zone 8b) wrote:

Tree's pretty much considered a weed here. When I lived in Maryland, I thought so there, too. Seed pods are a genuine nusiance and the fall color--even among the patented cultivars--isn't that great. It may have commercial value, but I've never hear of it if it does.

Negative monocacy On Oct 24, 2004, monocacy from Thurmont, MD wrote:

This tree is an absolute pest, grows like a weed. I swore if I bought another house I'd remove every one of them. I bought a new house and never found one, thank heavens. I hate the spikey balls, I'm a 'bare foot' person.
One redeaming factor, it generally has fablious fall color. I guess if you keep it away frm people, it would be ok.

Positive OhioBreezy On Aug 18, 2004, OhioBreezy from Dundee, OH (Zone 5b) wrote:

I am in northeast Ohio, and it grows wonderfully here - our zone is 5. hope that helps someone else out wanting to grow it, as it says lowest zones 6 here. ~ Laurrie

Positive dogbane On Dec 11, 2003, dogbane from New Orleans, LA (Zone 9a) wrote:

One of the few trees native to the deep south that gives dependable Fall color, though some years more intensely than others.

Neutral Terry On Apr 4, 2003, Terry from Murfreesboro, TN (Zone 7a) wrote:

A tree with gorgeous fall foliage (our neighbors have two in their front yards, and every fall I get "Sweetgum envy". But I also get their bagged leaves a few weeks later; dealing with the stickery seedballs always dampens my desire to have one in my yard!

I recently came across some interesting information for eliminating the seedballs. A product called 'Florel' made by Monterey Lawn & Garden can be sprayed on while the tree is in full bloom, and will supposedly eliminate the formation of fruit. One source says timing is crucial, and the application should occur just as the tiny balls form below the catkin.

Neutral mystic On Aug 14, 2001, mystic from Ewing, KY (Zone 6a) wrote:

This is a tall, stately tree. Normally, the sweet gum reaches a height of 80 to 100 feet. When mature, its straight trunk is 3 to 4 feet thick at the base. Sweet gum leaves are deeply lobed and star-shaped. They turn gold, red, or a deep crimson in autumn. The fruit is a brownish, spiny ball that remains on the tree through the winter. The sweet gum is so named because it produces a gummy compound, called storax, that is used in making perfumes, adhesives, and salves. Sweet gum wood is fairly hard and heavy. People use it to make veneer, cabinets, and other products.I love the tree but the spiny ball's are a problem.

Regional...

This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

,
Atmore, Alabama
Malvern, Arkansas
Alameda, California
Canoga Park, California
Chico, California
Clovis, California
El Cajon, California
Jacumba, California
Marysville, California
Mountain View, California
Paradise, California
Reseda, California
Salinas, California
San Diego, California
Wilmington, Delaware
Gainesville, Florida
Hampton, Florida
Hawthorne, Florida
Lecanto, Florida
Pensacola, Florida
Port Saint Lucie, Florida
Venice, Florida
Lilburn, Georgia
Galesburg, Illinois
Muncie, Indiana
Benton, Kentucky
Ewing, Kentucky
Abita Springs, Louisiana
Edgard, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana
Vacherie, Louisiana
Zachary, Louisiana
Valley Lee, Maryland
Westminster, Maryland
Lawrence, Massachusetts
Nantucket, Massachusetts
Ridgeland, Mississippi
Saucier, Mississippi
Starkville, Mississippi
Stennis Space Center, Mississippi
Fulton, Missouri
Springfield, Missouri
Frenchtown, New Jersey
Neptune, New Jersey
Concord, North Carolina
Raleigh, North Carolina
Dundee, Ohio
Jamestown, Ohio
Albany, Oregon
Royersford, Pennsylvania
Wynnewood, Pennsylvania
Belton, South Carolina
Conway, South Carolina
Summerville, South Carolina
Arlington, Texas (2 reports)
Deer Park, Texas
Jacksonville, Texas
New Caney, Texas
Santa Fe, Texas
Willis, Texas
Lexington, Virginia
Newport News, Virginia
Spotsylvania, Virginia
Seattle, Washington
New Berlin, Wisconsin



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