Sweet Gum

Sweet_Gum_jpgTrees in this genus (Liquidambar) are commonly called “Sweet Gum” trees.  They are named for the juices they posses. Sweet Gum is an ornamental and shade tree, good for veneer and plywood.  The gum flows from the tree in the form of bitter-tasting but sweet-smelling balsamic liquid.  It is semitransparent and yellowish-brown, but upon exposure to the air it hardens into a rosin-like hard solid.  The “gum” is chewed by children, the soaked twigs can be used for a toothbrush. In Pioneer times it was used in the South for the treatment of sores and skin troubles and in the treatment of dysentery.  It was favored by the Confederate armies.  During the first World War, and industry for preparing much needed salves arose in Clark County, Alabama.  The Sweet Gum trees were tapped to yield one-half to one pound of resin from each tree.  It was heated carefully, since it is highly flammable, strained and canned. Francisco Hernandez, the first great herbalist of Mexico speaks of it as having leaves “almost like a maple” and a resin of which the “nature is hot in the third order, and dry, and added to tobacco, it strengthens the head, belly and heart, induces sleep and alleviated pains in the head that are caused by colds.”

OtherCommonName:

Red or Star-Leaved Gum, Bilsted, Sapgum, Ling, American Copalm

ScientificName:

Liquidambar styraciflua

Community:

Thicket

PlantStatus:

Native

LifeSpan:

Woody trees and often live 60-70 years

PlantHeight:

20 to 40 feet

FruitingTime:

October and November

Distribution:

Connecticut to Florida ~ Throughout Coastal Plain and grown only in wet places in the Pine Barrens

FloweringTime:

Late April to late May

IdentifyingCharacteristics:

Leaves alternate, star-shaped, 4-7 inches wide and about as long, lobes triangular, saw toothed, bright green and smooth above, paler below with tufts of hairs in vein axils, turn yellow, purple or red before falling in late autumn, aromatic when crushed ~ Twigs stout, first hairy then orange to reddish brown, developing corky ridges after second year, aromatic when crushed ~ Flower greenish ~ Fruit 1 to 1 ½ inch spike-ball composed of capsules each ending in projecting spines, on slender stalk, many seeded, persisting into winter ~ Bark grayish brown, deeply furrowed