Plant of the Week - Sweetgum Tree


There is nothing better than following a tree through its yearly development. As we are in the throws of fall and leaves are beginning to shine with vibrant shades of autumn and soon will be fallen at accelatored speeds, take a moment and enjoy. Soon will be spending more time indoors as temperatures drop and day length shortens, spend every second you can and take nature in!  

Sweetgum (Liquidamber styraciflua) is a decidious tree. It is easily recognized by its five pointed (sometimes up to seven) star shaped leaves, and its hard spikey round fruits. The leaves are arranged in an alternate pattern on stems or branches. The branches can have wings or edges. The tree is adaptable to a wide range of soils and prefers a full-sun to light shade. It does not perform well in heavy shade so proper placement is important.

The overall shape of canopy is typically pyramidial when young, and the crown will become more oval or round in shape with age. The mature height is usually between 60 and 80 feet, with the width between 40 and 60 feet. Fall colors range from yellows to oranges and reds, to purples and mixtures of those colors as pictured below.  

The flowers are insignificant, but its fruits are anything but. The 'spiky-balls', sometimes called gum balls, can create a bit of a mess, especially if near high traffic areas. If you have ever stepped on one with a bare-foot, it is a feeling that won't soon be forgotten. If you have an ample supply, find those crafty friends to take them off our hands as I have seen some pretty cleaver natural decorations adorned with sweetgum fruits. 

I cannot end the article without mentioning a recent social media post from someone noting that the sweetgum fruit remind them of the coronavirus. I think that it a pretty good description and something that everyone can picture in their mind. I maybe using that visual description while we are in the pandemic and the immediate future.