Another common tree which has been used extensively as a landscaping tree in our area is Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua. There are 2 native Liquidambar species in the US, which belong to the Witch-Hazel family, Hamamelidacea (recently treated as Altignaceae). Sweetgum grows straight and tall, 50 to 100 feet in height, with a conical crown. Its bark is gray, and furrowed into ridges, and not especially wide at 1-3 feet in diameter. Sweetgum is a deciduous tree with bright green maple-like palmate leaves 3 to 6 inches in length. I had mistaken this tree for a maple (Acer sp.) for some time due to the similar leaf structure which become reddish yellow in the fall. Its flowers are tiny greenish red ball-like clusters, male stamens and female pistils separate. The fruit created from pollinated female flowers, are spiky 1 inch drooping woody-brown balls which contain many seeds. These “gumballs” persist on the tree into the winter when the tree has become dormant, and superficially resemble Sycamore fruits (Platanus sp.) The gum or sap of this tree which can be found in the furrows of the bark was used medicinally and as a chewing gum substitute. The leaves give off a pleasant, sweet odor when crushed, which is another identifying characteristic.
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