Sweetgum – Liquidambar styraciflua
People seem to either love sweetgum trees or find them annoying. Folks on the "love it" side appreciate the glossy green, star-shaped leaves, the fabulous yellow / red fall color and the ramrod-straight central leader that most sweetgums have. People who have a dim view of the tree probably find the spiny seed capsules, commonly called gumballs, annoying, especially as they pick the fallen ones off their turf. Some people say the gumballs look like miniature versions of the ancient weapon, the mace. No question that birds and chipmunks love the trees, as the gumballs contain seeds that are a prized food source.
Few trees have such a lyrical botanical name: Liquidambar styraciflua, (pronounced: liquid-am-bar sty-ras-eh-flu-a). Liquidambar refers to the sweet-tasting resinous sap that the tree exudes when its bark is cut. You can chew the sap like chewing gum! Styraciflua means flowing with resin, so both parts of the botanical name refer to the flowing sap.
Sweetgum trees are native from Connecticut to Florida, are found in bottomlands with moist soil. The tree grows to about 60' - 70' in height, with a spread about 2/3 the height. It is a relatively fast growing tree that has a pyramidal form when young, becoming more oval when mature. Look carefully, can you see the corky ridges on the twigs? The sweetgum is sometimes called alligator wood.
Sweetgum is an important lumber wood, it is used for veneers, plywood and furniture making.