Sweetgum

Liquidambar styraciflua

Copyright, Mark Brand

The Sweetgum is a large tree, growing up to 100 feet tall. It has a straight trunk, up to three feet wide.

Sweetgums grow in woods and along streambanks and lakes. Young Sweetgums are pioneer plants, growing quickly and taking over a field.

Sweetgums are easy to identify by their leaves. Leaves are star-shaped with five pointy lobes, and a long stalk. Fully grown leaves are about six inches long, and bright green. In the Fall, leaves turn red.

Copyright, Mark Brand

Copyright, Mark Brand

Sweetgums are aromatic, meaning they have a pleasant smell. You can crush a leaf to get a good sense of this.

Bark of Sweetgums is gray and has deep furrows (little ditches).

Sweetgum flowers are tiny, greenish, and ball-like. They grow in clusters.

Fruits are spiky green balls that turn brown with age. They are a little over an inch wide, and dangle on a long stalk. Each ball has prickly points that open to let seeds out. Two winged seeds come from each hole.

Seeds are mostly spread by the wind.

Erv Evans, NC State University

Sweetgum fruits, called "gumballs" by children, are often dropped in huge quantities. Up to 50 seeds can be in one fruit.

Seeds are eaten by many birds, chipmunks, and squirrels.

Very young Sweetgum trees are eaten by deer, rabbits, mice, and beaver.

Sweetgums grow with many other trees, including Virginia Pine, Eastern White Pine, Yellow Poplar, oaks, American Elm, Red Maple, Silver Maple, hickories, Flowering Dogwood, American Sycamore, Sassafras and Redbud.

Sweetgums provide cover for many birds and mammals.

Sweetgums have relationships with some helpful mushrooms; while other fungi, such as the Oyster Mushroom, are parasites.

Other pests include caterpillars, such as tent caterpillars and Luna Moths. Treehoppers also eat the leaves of Sweetgums.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visit Sweetgum flowers for nectar.

Though many animals depend on Sweetgums for seeds, they don't begin producing them for about 20 years.

Erv Evans, NC State University

Relationships in Nature:

Animals Using as Food Source

Animals Using as Shelter

Associations With Other Plants

OTHER

Luna Moth

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Virginia Pine

Oyster Mushroom Pa

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Luna Moth

Eastern White Pine

Turkey Tail Pa

White-tailed Deer

Eastern Tent Caterpillar Moth

Red Maple

Japanese Honeysuckle Pa

Eastern Chipmunk

Wood Duck

American Elm

Beaver

Green Darner

Silver Maple

Eastern Cottontail

Dogday Harvestfly

Black Oak

Meadow Vole

Mourning Dove

White Oak

White-footed Mouse

European Gypsy Moth

Willow Oak

Mallard

White-tailed Deer

Mockernut Hickory

Wood Duck

Carolina Chickadee

Loblolly Pine

Northern Bobwhite

Harvestman

Flowering Dogwood

White-throated Sparrow

True Katydid

American Sycamore

American Goldfinch

Beaver

Sassafras

Eastern Hercules Beetle

CommonWater Strider

Pink Lady's Slipper

Eastern Tent Caterpillar Moth

Eastern Hercules Beetle

American Holly

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Bald-faced Hornet

Trumpet Creeper

True Katydid

Double-crested Cormorant

Wild Grape

Carolina Wren

Greenbrier

Carolina Chickadee

Japanese Honeysuckle

Virginia Rose

Relationship to Humans:

Sweetgum is used for timber, furniture, cabinets, plywood, pulp (paper), barrels, and boxes. Trees are planted along water to help prevent erosion. Sometimes the sap is used to make chewing gum.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Plant
DIVISION
Magnoliophyta
CLASS
Magnoliopsida
ORDER
Hamamelidales
FAMILY
Hamamelidaceae
GENUS
Liquidambar
SPECIES
Liquidambar styraciflua

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