71122One of the big four for mild climates, sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, develops an excellent display of mixed yellow, orange and red, regardless of how quietly autumn tries to sneak in. Of the other three, Chinese pistache is more orange with less yellow, flowering pear is more ruddy, and gingko is only bright yellow. They all get very flashy color, but sweetgum just might be the flashiest.

Some trees can favor one color or another. Distressed trees tend to be more pinkish red. Vigorous trees might have more yellow. Garden varieties were selected for reliable variability; although ‘burgundy’ has more dark red. Only trees that are too sheltered, too vigorous or pruned too aggressively will lack color. Urban trees can get fifty feet tall, but do not get very broad. Structural deficiency, aggressive roots and spiky seed capsules the size of ping pong balls can be problematic.

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13 thoughts on “Sweetgum

  1. When reading your several posts about trees, I’ve been wondering what a sweetgum is. Now I know it’s a Liquidambar- we have these here too, and in the street where I live, they’re a stunning feature in autumn. I have one in my garden, and I love it.

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    1. I never liked that name. It seems so unglamorous and technical. As an arborist, I should not like the tree, but I do. One of the roads at the farm is lined with them. It is more like an informal grove than the sort of evenly spaced row that I like in town, but it is spectacular this time of year.

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    2. I think I just asked someone if there were any deciduous trees there because I see primarily evergreens in pictures. She assured me that there was. I would not have guessed that there would be sweetgums there though. I know that they would grow there, but it seems odd that there are not better choices.

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    1. Yes, ‘Festival’ and ‘Palo Alto’ are probably the two most popular. ‘Festival’ looks something like the ones in the picture (which are normally brighter red, even though they are not the real thing). ‘Palo Alto’ is more of a mix. ‘Burgundy’ is too dark, and holds the foliage too long. It can look rather tired with foliage still hanging on in winter. It sounds gook, but I do not think that it is as pretty as ‘Festival’ is.

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  2. Never knew it was called sweetgum. Is it in the eucalypt family then? 10 years after leaving NZ I went back to look at our old house, big mistake, all our lovely trees were gone, no ginkgo or liquid amber or any other we had nurtured. Very sad…

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    1. ‘Gum’ is only a reference to the sap. We have sweetgum, sourgum, (no sweetandsourgum though), black gum and so on. They are all different genera. Eucalyptus trees known as ‘gum’ is a relatively recent concept, and only where eucalypti are common. (‘Blue gum’ is actually a VERY derogatory racial slur for someone of African American descent and of poor breeding. Of course, I regularly remind Brent of this, and use the term freely.) I still use the term ‘gum’ because my material grandmother’s parents were Okies, so used the term. Other professionals try to correct me, and I get indignant. My great grandmother is correct, and no one will convince me otherwise. My mother has three sweetgum trees in her garden, and there are several in the park down the road; but sadly, many that were in neighboring gardens are now gone. However, one of the nicer homes on a corner has a few sweetgum, and the young man who lives there will not cut any down! He is actually older than I am, but is young in that it was his parents home. He is one of the few remaining natives, who happens to be very protective of his trees.

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