American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

Liquidambar styraciflua, also known as the American sweetgum tree, is found in the central, southern and eastern parts of the US. It's a species that adapts extremely well to extreme temperatures. It has a high wildlife value, providing shelter to animals like squirrels, birds, and deer. It’s also used by humans for timber and for the medicinal properties of its resin.

Alligator Wood

This large tree has an oval-shaped canopy that provides plenty of shade. That makes it a good choice for parks, as well as residential areas. It’s a large tree that can reach heights of up to 150 feet, and it can live for up to 400 years.

One of the unique characteristics of the American sweetgum tree is the appearance of its branches and twigs. In young trees, these small ramifications often have corky ridges, which can resemble a reptilian shape. That gives the sweetgum the alternative name of “alligator wood”.

Its leaves are star-shaped, with five-pointed lobes on each. They change colors during autumn, from bright yellow and orange to deep purple and burgundy.

How to Care for an American Sweetgum Tree

This special tree needs plenty of room to grow. Its canopy will spread to about two-thirds of its height at maturity, a factor you need to consider when planting close to buildings or other trees.

It prefers full sun and at least six hours of full exposure a day. It grows best in acidic soils, including the wetlands, floodplains or sandhill soils of North Carolina, where the tree is native. It has tolerance to drought or poor drainage but does not do very well with the presence of salt in the soil or in shaded areas.

Although it’s great for commercial use, for its timber and resin, the American sweetgum tree is also a great decorative tree in landscaping.

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