Characteristics of American Sweetgum Tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) in the Wild

Liquidambar styraciflua
American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is a leaf-changing tree in the genus Liquidambar, which originates in warm climates in eastern North America and tropical mountain regions in Mexico and Central America.

The tree was first described as the Liquidambar genus by Linnaeus in 1753.

The american sweetgum tree is one of the most valuable forest flora because of its good wood quality, especially in the southeastern United States.

American sweetgum itself is already popular as an ornamental tree in temperate regions because of its attractive leaf shape and creates a beautiful red color in autumn.

This tree is also known by many names, including American storax, Hazel pine, Bilsted, Redgum, Satin-walnut, Star-leaved gum, and Alligatorwood, sometimes simply called Sweetgum.

The name “storax” has long been used for the synonym of this tree, but it is confusing with other species such as Liquidambar orientalis from Turkey, and other trees that were first popular, for example from the genus Styrax.

The earliest published notes of styraciflua were published in a Spanish naturalist work, Francisco Hernández, which was posthumously published in 1615, in which he described the species as a large tree that produced fragrant gum resembling liquid amber.

In John Ray’s Historia Plantarum (1686) called Styrax liquida. However, the first mention of each use of amber was explained by Juan de Grijalva, nephew of the Cuban governor, in 1517. Juan de Grijalva told of the exchange of gifts with the Maya “who offered them, among other things: hollow reeds around a long-range filled with dried herbs and sweet-smelling amber liquid, which when ignited in the manner indicated by the natives, spread a pleasant odor.”

This species was introduced to Europe in 1681 by John Banister (a missionary collector sent by Bishop Compton) and planted it in the Fulham palace garden, London, England.

The american sweetgum tree naturally grows and spreads in the lowlands from south-west Connecticut to central Florida, through Ohio and west to Illinois, southern Missouri, and eastern Texas. But it doesn’t grow in the cold Appalachian highlands or the Midwestern state.

This species is also found growing in Mexico from Nuevo León south to Chiapas, as well as in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras.

In Mexico and Central America, american sweetgum is a typical forest tree, growing in areas of high altitude in various primary mountain areas where the climate is more humid.


Characteristics of American Sweetgum Leaf

Liquidambar styraciflua Leaf
Source :

The leaves have five (but sometimes three or seven) spiky palmate lobes. The leaves are mostly 8-13 cm wide, dark green, smooth, shiny, and star-shaped. Generally, American sweetgum leaves change color from green to yellow, orange, red, then purple and fall in the fall.


Characteristics of American Sweetgum Flower

Liquidambar styraciflua Flower
Source : Bayton

The flowers appear in March to May and last until autumn, sometimes lasting to winter. The size is about 3-4 cm covered with fine hair.


Characteristics of American Sweetgum Fruit

Liquidambar styraciflua Fruit
Source : hub

American sweetgum compound, hard, round, and 3-4 cm in diameter. Each fruit contains one to two small seeds.


Characteristics of American Sweetgum Tree

Liquidambar styraciflua Tree
Source : Taylor

The tree is medium to large between 15-20 meters, it can grow anywhere in the wild. American sweetgum tree also has a fairly long age, which is 400 years or more.

From a distance, the american sweetgum tree is symmetrical and the crown is round on an old tree.

American sweetgum can thrive in moist areas, acidic soils, clay soils, and tolerates poor drainage.


The wood is one of the most important commercial hardwoods in the United States and is classified as strong, hard, heavy, and durable wood.

In the carpentry industry, american sweetgum wood is referred to as “satin walnut” and is one of the most important ingredients for plywood producers.

American sweetgum wood is also often used to make furniture, interiors, hardwood floors, rail pads, cigar boxes, crates, and casks.

The tree produces the sap which is very useful, the sap is used for medical purposes as well as for making food, especially chewing gum.

The trees are widely planted and cultivated in various subtropical countries as ornamental trees, shrubs, and landscapes which are usually sided by side with trees such as Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) and Willow Oak (Quercus phellos).


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