Liquidambar styraciflua, Sweetgum

Tried and True Native Plant Selections for the Mid-Atlantic 

This low maintenance, deciduous, tall shade tree is recognized by its star-shaped leaves and the prickly woody seed balls that litter the ground and can hang on through the winter. The common name refers to its aromatic sap which is rather sweet and gummy.

Print Version: Liquidambar styraciflua, Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua, Sweet Gum Tree Height: 60–90 feet Bloom Color: Yellow-green tinged with red Twigs often form scaly, corky wings hence nick- name: alligator tree; mature bark deeply furrowed Spread: 50–75 feet Characteristics Tall, straight-trunked deciduous tree with pyramid- shaped crown becoming rounded with age Glossy, star-shaped leaves with toothed edges Yellow-green flowers in ball-like clusters early spring On 25+ year-old trees, green, woody balls with protruding beak-like capsules, which contain seeds winged at one end, ripen to brown July to March Superb fall foliage: yellows, oranges, reds, purples Attributes Tolerates clay, short-duration flooding, rabbits, but not alkaline soil; rapid-growing, long-lived, adaptable No serious pests or diseases; deer occasionally severely damage Ethnobotanic uses; leaves fragrant when crushed Attracts wildlife, providing cover, nesting sites, and food for songbirds and small mammals Growing and Maintenance Tips Soil Requirements: Acidic, well-drained soil Light Requirements: Sun, Partial Shade Water Requirements: Moist, Wet Excellent Replacement for Acer platanoides - Norway MapleTransplant best in spring in well-watered soil *It is native to DC and common in DE. In PA, it is found mostly in the extreme southeast. In VA, it is common in the Coastal Plain and outer Piedmont, becoming infrequent to rare in the inner and far northern Piedmont, and disjunct across the Blue Ridge. It is native to NoVA but unreported in Alexandria, Fairfax City, Falls Church, and Manassas. Use in large, open landscapes or lawns (prickly balls can be a hazard with foot traffic or mowing) Hardiness: USDA Zones 5b–9
Learn more about other Mid-Atlantic plants: Tried and True Plant Fact Sheets.