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Liquidambar styraciflua are deciduous trees grown mainly for their alternate, maple-like leaves which turn richly brilliant, long-lasting autumnal colour. The flowers and fruits are inconspicuous and generally not an element this beautiful tree is known for.
Commonly known as `sweet gum` and from the Altingiaceae family formally the member of the Hamamelidaceae. Or certainly considered as a member. Native to the warm temperate areas of eastern North America and tropical montane regions of Central America and Mexico.
Also called the American sweet gum, alligator-wood, American-storax, blister, red-gum, satin-walnut, or star-leaved gum. This varies from country to country.
Liquidamber is a deciduous tree with leaf fall following the fabulous autumn coloring which intensifies to brilliant reds, rusts, deep burgundy reds and browns. The leaf is a five-pointed star-shape and it produces hard, spiked fruits. The leaf is specifically distinctive. The trees genus name Liquidambar was first given by Linnaeus in 1753 from liquidus, fluid, and the Arabic ambar, amber, due to the juice or gum which exudes from the tree. The styraciflua is an old generic name which means flowing with styrax referring to a plant resin. The Sweet Gum common name comes from the gum being known for a sweet quality.
It is commonly grown throughout its native North American also through other temperate areas of the world. The species prefers to be grown in moist, acidic loam or clay soil. It will tolerate poor drainage and having a moderate salt tolerance. Chlorosis can develop on alkaline soil, especially where organic matter is low so always ensure this is a priority for planting areas. It likes to be in the sun and does not grow well in shade.
This amazing tree can typically live to 400 years.
Liquidambar styraciflua is generally known as a medium size growing tree to approximately 10-17m in cultivation, however up to 50m in the wild with an impressive trunk up to a meter in diameter.
Forming a symmetrical shape with an `egg` shape crown as it matures and the branch weight become heavy.
Usually the leaf is 3-7 inches wide, with 5 star pointed shape, also seen with between 3 to 7 points. The leaf has three distinct bundle scars. Long and broad, with a 6–10 cm petiole. The leaf early stage is rich and dark with a smooth shinny surface. As the autumn arrives the colouring turns to the most wonderful colours to be seen. Transforming from green to yellows, brilliant orange, red, and purple colors in the autumn. Added to this one will see rich and deep dark purples, mahoganies, brown and smoky brown.
The leaf base is slightly heart shaped and each leaf is produced on the branch in a singular alternate format, not in pairs. Coming out as downy, pale green, turning deeper green with a paler underside.
A sight to see, truly.
In cold climates the leaf can be lost to early frost whilst the leaf is still green. Where as in the extreme southern or tropical parts of its range it may be semi-evergreen or even evergreen and not lose any leaf.
Liquidambar is not unsimilar to Acer species in the autumnal colouring yet the range of colour toning is far greater and diverse. A tree to find a prize position for given the space.
RHS Wisley, Surrey, Uk have a beautiful specimen Liquidamber which is well worth visiting as we move into the cooler season. A tree to uplift the dullest wintery day.
Enjoy the Landscape