Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is an ornamental tree native to the southeastern U.S. (as far north as Connecticut) along the coast, as well as some areas of Central America. Also known as redgum and starleaf gum, it is a long-lived hardwood tree suitable for sunny, moist gardens in areas with moderate winters.
This is a tall tree (75 feet or more). Leaves resemble maples in their star-like shape; twigs and branches are distinctively ridged; and the fruit is a round, spiky ball. Young trees are narrow, but spread as they mature.
Sun and adequate water are essential. It can grow well in poorly drained, soggy soils but not if the soil is too dry.
Given enough water, this is a fairly trouble-free tree without major problems or diseases.
Fall color is outstanding: a mixture of reds, yellows and plum tones. The spiky fruits are ornamental in winter, as is the textured bark.
Sweetgum is often too large for small gardens; its wood is brittle and branches may break easily (when cut down, they will sprout from the roots). Balls of seeds may be a nuisance underfoot.
Sweetgum, Liquidambar, Redgum, Starleaf gum
About this Author
Over the past 30 years, Mara Grey has sold plants in nurseries, designed gardens and volunteered as a Master Gardener. She is the author of "The Lazy Gardener" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Flower Gardening" and has a Bachelor of Science in botany.