Well known for its colourful autumn foliage (gold, amber, and scarlet red), Liquidambar styraciflua is a deciduous tree native to North America. This beautiful tree has been cultivated all over the world for its stunning foliage and neat, upright growth habit. It was given its genus name ‘Liquidambar’ by Linnaeus from the Latin liquidus and the ‘amber’, in allusion to the fragrant gum which exudes from the tree. This medium sized to large tree can grow up to 20 m in height, with a trunk up to 2m diameter.
The Sweetgum is characterized with palmately lobed leaves with toothed marged margins that mature into a star shape. Another distinctive feature of the tree is the peculiar appearance of its small branches and twigs. They are attached to the bark in plates edgewise instead of laterally. The bark is a light brown tinged with red and sometimes gray with dark streaks. It is also deeply fissured with scaly ridges.
During spring and summer, the foliage is a glossy, rich dark green. When autumn approaches, the leaves turn brilliant orange, red and purple colours, which is most attractive. The Sweetgum is a fast grower which is frost hardy and it has moderate water requirements. Flowering takes place from September to October, with small, pale green flowers that develop into spherical, spiky seed pods. These seed pods can be messy and the spikes are fairly sharp.
Sweetgum is able to fix Nitrogen in the soil. This tree is grown for shade, as a specimen tree or for background planting on avenues or wide streets. The root system is aggressive hence this tree should not be planted in small gardens or close to buildings and underground utilities.