Tennessee Smart Yards Native Plants

A comprehensive database of Tennessee native plants

Sweetgum, Redgum, Starleaf-gum

Sweetgum, Redgum, Starleaf-gum

Liquidambar styraciflua

Full sun; medium to moderately dry moisture level; prefers organically rich loamy soil but tolerates sandy, sandy loam, clay loam and clay; slightly acid pH.

60-75 height by 40-50 feet spread; greenish yellow blooms in spring, appearing with the new foliage; seeds are globular, horny, woody balls, 1 – 1 1/2 inches in diameter, in late July and persisting through January.

Growth Rate: Medium to fast. 2-3 feet per year if in full sun and kept moist.

Maintenance: Low maintenance. Infrequent disease and insect problems. Plant only in spring because roots take 3-4 months to recover from shock of transplanting.  However, you can often justify the risk by finding exceptional bargains in the fall when many garden centers are motivated to reduce their stock.

Propagation: Seed germination code C (60-90) at 36 degrees F. Moderately easy from seed. Seed germination percentages are generally quite low.

Native Region: Statewide

Attractive canopy tree that is long-lived and adapted to a range of conditions. Good choice as a windbreak tree because of its fast growth and tolerance of a variety of sites. Scientific name translates to “liquid amber” which refers to the clear yellow resin that is collected from trees for a natural chewing gum and a flavoring for soaps, tobacco and incense. Has one of the most beautiful fall color displays of any southern tree, including red, orange, yellow and burgundy. Fruits are vicious, spiny, round woody capsules that fall in large quantities all winter and are painful to walk on, a definite maintenance and liability problem in the lawn. Needs plenty of space for root development and does not do well in locations where root development is restricted. Intolerant of shade. Many cultivars available, including seedless ‘Cherokee’ and ‘Rotundiloba.’

Seed balls are food for several bird species and mammals.


One response to “Sweetgum, Redgum, Starleaf-gum

  1. joystewart May 22, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    I hope I can save someone the trouble that I had with this tree! I bought the ‘Rotundiloba’ cultivar because it was all I could find in the nurseries. After about 6 years and a tree about 15-20 feet tall, a wind storm hit our area, and the whole top section of the tree split out. We repaired the damage and tied it up to a create new leader for the tree. But then I got to thinking that the storm surely wasn’t one of the really bad ones and that this tree was the only one damaged in my yard. So I dug out my copy of Manual of Woody Landscape Plants by Michael Dirr, and carefully read the review and discovered that it has proven to be quite weak-wooded. So after all that time and work, we decided it would be a lot easier to remove the tree when it is only 20 feet tall than when a really big windstorm hits it when it is 60 feet tall. So out it came. It was a waste of money and 6 years of growing time. It surely goes to show how a person should be cautious of new cultivars. Growers rush in with excitement to get a single new trait (in this case seedless) when they have no idea what other traits this newly named cultivar might have.

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