Liquidambar styraciflua (American sweetgum)

Liquidambar styraciflua (American sweetgum) is a very ornamental deciduous tree, native to Mexico, the United States and the mountainous regions of Central America. The name Liquidambar is due to the sap of the plant, which is amber, resinous and sweet, and pours in abundance when the trunk or branches are cut or injured.

Common name: American sweetgum
Scientific name: Liquidambar styraciflua
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Characteristics

It has a single trunk, with a conical crown with pyramidal and large size, reaching between 20 and 30 meters in height. A distinctive feature of this tree is the peculiar aspect of its branches. The bark accumulates plates forming strange shapes. The alternating leaves are star shaped with 5 to 7 tips, bright and very aromatic. During spring and summer the leaves have a dark green color. In autumn the leaves acquire different shades of light green, yellow, orange and red, often simultaneously. They are a delight for the eyes.

Flowers, fruits e seeds

Liquidambar produces spherical inflorescence during spring, they are yellow and of little ornamental importance.

Then the fruits, also globose, covered by thorns, woody when ripe. Each fruit contains up to 40 capsules, with one or two seeds in each.

There are many varieties of Liquidambar, among them: ‘Slender Silhouette’, of columnar growth, ‘Gumball’, of bush size – not exceeding 6 meters in height, ‘Rotundifolia’, with the tips of the leaves rounded, reminding the leaves of figs, and ‘Variegata’, with leaves stained with cream or yellow.

Liquidambar styraciflua flowers
Liquidambar styraciflua flowers

How to plant

Liquidambar is greatly appreciated in the landscaping of large areas such as parks, avenues and squares. This tree gives an extraordinary atmosphere and is therefore increasingly used in tourist and mountainous regions along with oaks, poplars, maples and platanus.

Plant Liquidambars in lines, forming alleys or in groups, for a striking forest-like effect. Even when planted in isolation, liquidambar becomes the focus of attention during the fall, with its wide variety of colors. The naked trees during winter add a more dramatic effect, and allow the passage of sunlight. In tropical regions the Liquidambar may be evergreen, providing abundant shade, but without the spectacular color variations of the leaves during the fall in the cold season.

Liquidambar styraciflua in fall
Liquidambar styraciflua in fall

It should be cultivated in full sun, preferably in moist but well drained soils, for full root development. The water requirement of this tree is high and it is crucial to water it in the first few years after planting. Once well established it is able to tolerate short periods of drought. Resistant to intense cold, snow and frost.

Propagation

Liquidambar is propagated by air layer or by seed. Must be potted in the first 2 years. When transplanting the seedlings to the final site, open large holes and water regularly until the tree is established.

Liquidambar styraciflua fruits
Liquidambar styraciflua fruits

Growth

Liquidambar’s initial growth is slow in the first three years, becoming rapid after this period. It is a tree of great longevity and can live more than 400 years. Sweetgum wood is of good quality, with medium density and texture, dark color and is easy to work. Used for the manufacture of furniture, pulp extraction and lamination for sheets. Its concentrated sap is a balsamic and perfumed gum used in the production of perfumes, medicines and hygiene products.

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