Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Crazy Plants: Sweetgum

A sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), also known as sapgum, bilsted, redgum, and starleaf-gum.
Sweetgum fruits
This plant can make life a bit difficult thanks to its large, bur-like fruits. The leaves are sizable and star-shaped, being deep green that turns to red, purple, or even yellow in autumn. The tree is a commonly seen pioneer plant, being one of the first to begin growing after an area has been cleared of trees. The up to fifty-six seeds that are contained within the strange fruits are eaten by a variety of animals, including birds and squirrels. It is commonly found in combination with such other trees as pines and oaks, often competing for space. The roots are rather shallow, which can be a problem in certain situations.

The sweetgum's range
The native range of this species is rather far-reaching, covering the majority of the southern United States and north into Connecticut and Illinois. There are also pockets found is such places as Mexico and Guatamala. It is a commonly used hardwood in the South, partly because it grows so well in the acidic soils found there. The wood is attractive, and as such it is a commonly-used veneer. The "gum" part of the tree's common name comes from one of its former uses. The rather solid resin that can be found within the tree would be cut out and made into chewing gum. Today, the main use of the tree is as an ornamental since the leaves are rather attractive, and also sometimes as a shade tree. They are rather easy to grow, which is an advantage for landscaping. Unfortunately, those spiky fruits tend to fall in mass, making a mess than needs to be raked. I know from experience that they are quite painful to step on.

Sources are University of Florida, Perdue University, University of Connecticut, and the USDA Forest Service. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licenses: one, two, three.


  1. My neighbor has these, or something similar (Oregon isn't in the range?) and since I walk around barefoot all the time... The darned pods fall into our driveway, and stepping on them is not fun.

    1. I don't know what species it could be, but yes, stepping on those little balls is not comfortable.