The Sweetgum Tree (Liquidambar styraciflua)

Height: Up to about 75 feet  

Evergreen/Deciduous: Deciduous   

Lifespan: Around 150 years  

Fall Foliage: On of autumn’s star species; leaves yellow to purple and, at times, clad in multiple colors

Range: Primarily the southeastern U.S., but it stretches up the east coast to Pennsylvania and Illinois in the western portion of its range.  

Typical Habitat: Adaptable, but most common in low-lying areas with plenty of moisture.   

The Sweetgum Tree: An Often-Maligned Species

Sweetgums aren’t the most celebrated tree among homeowners or landscapers, as they’re intolerant of the indignities of city life and produce copious amounts of hard, woody fruit (colloquially called sweetgum balls), which can cause a trip hazard or nuisance. They also produce somewhat problematic roots, which can lift sidewalks and driveways.

However, they do produce some of the best fall color of any tree (comparable at times to maples and sourwoods), and they have a relatively fast growth rate. So they’re not completely without appeal.

But most importantly, sweetgums are important and helpful components of low-lying forests, where they thrive best. It provides food for a variety of birds and small mammals, and its roots help to slow erosion.

Sweetgum Tree Identification: Tips & Tricks

Sweetgum trees are pretty unmistakable. If you see star-shaped leaves with five distinct, long lobes in a natural area, you’re almost certainly looking at a sweetgum. Young leaves can slightly resemble maple leaves, but a quick side-by-side comparison usually clears things right up.

If necessary, you can also look for the numerous gumballs that carpet the floor near mature trees and can often be seen hanging from the tree’s branches. For that matter, the furrowed bark of mature trees is often sufficient for identification by those vaguely familiar with the species.

The Sweetgum Tree: Additional Information

We certainly think sweetgum trees are pretty amazing and hope you do too. If you’d like to learn a little more about them, check out these helpful resources:

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