Sweetgum trees (botanical name Liquidambar) are a big deciduous flowering tree with huge lobed leaves, tiny globular flowers, and seed-containing spiky gumballs. In the autumn, the colorful lobed leaves of sweetgum trees may be orange, red, yellow, or purple. The spiky balls of many sweetgum types may be up to 2″ (5 cm) in diameter and are a distinguishing feature.
The American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) or gumball tree is the most popular sweetgum tree. With its colorful fall leaves and rounded pyramidal crown, the American sweetgum is a tall ornamental tree. It’s a gorgeous tree that can be used for landscaping.
The Liquidambar genus includes other common trees, such as the Sweetgum ‘Slender Silhouette’ (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’) and Fruitless Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Rotundiloba’). This page discusses sweetgums trees and how to distinguish them. Descriptions and pictures of popular sweetgum trees may be used to identify these deciduous landscape trees.
Sweetgum Tree Facts
The genus Liquidambar and the family Altingiaceae contain 15 species of sweetgum trees. Sweetgums are North American, Asian, and Mediterranean native decorative deciduous trees. The mature height of sweetgum trees ranges from 32 to 130 feet (10 to 40 meters).
The sweet, sticky, resinous substance that oozes from the cut stem gives sweetsum trees their name. This yellow sap is also called Liquidambar, which literally means “liquid amber.” The spectacular crimson color of the leaves in the fall and the reddish-yellow color of the tree’s sap give redgum its common name. The sweetgum tree is also known as the liquid amber tree and the sugar gum tree.
This genus is identified by the spiky balls or gumballs on the sweetgum tree. Sycamore tree fruit looks a lot like the sweetgum tree ball. The spikes on the gumballs can be a irritation to some gardeners in the autumn. If you stand on the hard, woody balls, you may be injured if you fall. Sharp spikes can also harm youngsters.
In full sun and well-draining moist soil, sweetgum trees thrive. Hardy sweetgum trees, on the other hand, can thrive in damp soils and are resistant to drought. From Connecticut to Florida, and as far west as Texas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, you can find sweetgums growing in eastern North America.
Sweetgum tree leaves are star-shaped, large palmate leaves with three to seven lobes that are seen throughout the summer. Sweetgum tree leaves, which grow to be 5 to 8 inches (12 to 20 cm) long, are big. Sweetgum leaves have three to seven pointed blades, as seen in the photographs. Sweetgum leaves turn bright hues of red, yellow, orange, and purple in the fall after the summer is over.
Sweetgum leaves have a pleasant scent when crushed, which is another characteristic. The leaves have a tangy, citrusy fragrance with a sweet undertone. The leaves of sweetgum trees in the autumn are one method to identify them in a setting.
The last of the deciduous trees to shed their leaves is usually sweetgum trees. Sweetgums stand out from other deciduous trees because of their spectacular foliage fall colors. Sweetgum trees, in particular, are the last of the deciduous trees to shed their leaves in the spring.
Sweetgum Tree Bark
Sweetgum tree has a light gray bark with vertical, uneven ridges that cover a tall, straight trunk. Sweetgum bark becomes gray-brown with deeper furrows and narrow ridges as the tree matures.
Sweetgum Tree Balls
When immature, sweetgum tree balls (gumballs) are green, whereas when mature, they are dark brown. Gumballs are grouped in clusters with spiky gumballs. Sweetgum balls are 1″ to 3″ (2.5 to 7.5 cm) in diameter and contain numerous seeds, making them hard and brown.
Sweetgum balls, which fall between December and April for some gardeners, can cause a litter problem. Sweetgum trees of various species do not all produce balls. Sweetgum trees with fruitless varieties, such as the sweetgum ‘Rotundiloba,’ do not create seedpods. As a result, these sweetgums produce little waste and their blooms seldom develop into thorny gumballs.
Sweetgum Tree Flower
Sweetgum tree blossoms are little, insignificant clusters of yellowish-green blooms. In April and May, sweetgums bloom non-showily, but their flowers aren’t as appealing as the tree’s.
Sweetgum Tree Identification
The bark, leaves, and fruit of the sweetgum tree can all be used to identify it. Large star-shaped lobed green leaves that turn brilliant autumn red, yellow, and orange hues are a distinguishing feature of sweet gum trees. The light gray bark of the sweetgum tree has vertical fissured ridges.
Another distinguishing characteristic of sweetgum trees is spiky gumballs. It might be tough to differentiate sweetgum trees from other maple tree types. Sweetgum foliage have deeper lobbing and are arranged alternately on branches, whereas maple tree foliage have the opposite leaf arrangement, which are the primary distinctions between the two species.
Types of Sweetgum Trees (With Pictures)
Now, let’s explore the many sweetgum tree types that are available. Each tree variety has its own description, including information on the leaves, bark, growth habit, and spiky gumballs.
American Sweetgum Tree (Liquidambar styraciflua)
The American sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) features large star-shaped leaves and black gumballs with spiky branches. The American sweetgum has a tall, straight trunk with a conically shaped crown as a magnificent shade tree. Between 60 and 80 feet (18 and 24 meters) tall, this low-maintenance landscape tree spreads up to 60 feet (12 meters) wide.
Glossy dark green, aromatic leaves, and globular spiny gumballs are all characteristics of the American sweetgum. The American sweetgum, with bright red, orange, yellow, or purple foliage in the fall landscape, is a stunning tree. USDA growing zones 5 – 9 are ideal for the American sweetgum tree.
Full sun is best for the big, deciduous tree. It thrives on most types of soil and isn’t fussy about wet soil as a decorative tree. Liquidambar styraciflua is also known as red gum, star-leaved gum, American storax, hazel pine, copalm balsam, satin walnut, and alligatorwood. Apart from American sweetgum, it is also called red gum. The sweet-smelling sticky resin and the color or form of the leaves are two identifying traits of this tree, which is why it’s called that.
Before planting a sweetgum tree in your own garden, there are just a few factors to consider. Sweetgum tree has relatively shallow roots. As a result, keeping the tree at least 10 feet (3 meters) distant from buildings or sidewalks is recommended. In late winter or early spring, the sweetgum tree produces spiky balls. If someone steps on a hard nut-like sweetgum fruit, it might be dangerous. After that, in the autumn, after the leaves have fallen and seed capsules have formed, there is the task of cleaning up.
Sweetgum tree leaves are five-pointed star-shaped blades that resemble maple leaves. They’re native to the United States. The pointed leaflets with serrated edges on the palmately lobed, lustrous leaves. Between 3 and 6 inches (7.5 and 15 cm) long and broad, the fragrant leaves grow. The brilliant fall color changes of reds, purples, oranges, and yellows are a characteristic of sweetgum tree leaves.
Gum tree balls are coppery-brown spherical spikey capsules that appear in the fall of the American sweetgum tree. Sweetgum tree balls range in diameter from 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.5 cm). On the tree until mid-winter or early spring, clusters of bristly tree balls persist. In residential areas, cleaning gumballs may be challenging.
Sweetgum balls are popular in the United States.
Sweetgum ‘Slender Silhouette’ (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’)
The sweetgum tree bark (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’) is a vertical accent in compact, tiny landscapes. The star-shaped, light glossy green leaves and spiky gumballs on this tall thin tree identify it as a Liquidambar styraciflua cultivar. Fastigiate (columnar) trees reach maturity at 50 feet.
It’s only 4 feet (1.2 meters) broad and stands 15 feet (4 meters) tall. The inconspicuous white spring flowers of the Slender Silhouette American sweetgum are similar to those found in the specimen tree. In the fall, the bright green lobed leaves acquire gorgeous scarlet and orange hues. While the small sweetgum tree’s gumballs are sharp, they do not create a ruckus as they fall close to it.
USDA zones 5 through 8 are ideal for the ‘Slender Silhouette’ sweetgum tree. In full sun, the deciduous ornamental tree thrives and can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. As a specimen tree, a tall thin tree, or a tall quiet screen plant, you may cultivate the ‘Slender Silhouette.’ Five-pointed, lobed leaves in a star shape make up the leaves of the American sweetgum tree, dubbed “Slender Silhouette.” The tree’s pencil-like growth habit is due to the dense dark green foliage that develops thickly on upward-growing branches.
Fruitless Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Rotundiloba’)
The American sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Rotundiloba’) doesn’t have spiky balls, which is typical of most gumball trees. Sweetgum trees have star-shaped palmate leaves and a dark gray-brown furrowed bark. In the autumn and winter, the sterile ‘Rotundiloba’ is a podless sweetgum variant that leaves no traces.
USDA zones 6 through 9 are ideal for the fruitless Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Rotundiloba.’ The small, low-maintenance shade tree grows to be 60 to 70 feet (18 to 21 meters) tall and has a narrowly pyramidal shape. Sweetgum is ideal for large garden landscapes due to the fact that it doesn’t have balls.
As a lawn or shade tree, this specimen tree is ideal. The round-tipped leaflets that make up the palmate leaves are a distinguishing feature of the sweetgum known as the Rotundiloba. The plant’s moniker comes from the fact that each lobe is rounded, making it easier to recognize.
Sterile American sweetgum leaves are glossy green and 6 inches (15 cm) long with five lobes. They are the fruitless kind of sweetgum tree leaves and bark. The leaves of the ‘Rotundiloba’ are rounded, not pointed, unlike those of most sweetgum trees. The lovely leaves become yellow and red in the fall.
Sweetgum ‘Worplesdon’ (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’)
The beautiful Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’ tree has star-shaped leaves, gumballs, and lovely autumn hues. This magnificent shade tree has a wide pyramidal crown and is distinguished by its brilliant color. The small ‘Worplesdon’ tree, which grows up to 50 feet (15 meters) tall and 40 feet (12 meters) broad, is smaller than other sweetgums.
The fiery red leaf color of the sweetgum ‘Worplesdon’ in the autumn is a lovely characteristic. Some of the most popular Japanese maples are rivaled by this eye-catching red or burgundy foliage.
The lovely green summer leaves, red and orange fall leaves, and beautiful branching of this sweetgum make it a year-round favorite. This lovely tree may be grown as an attractive landscape in USDA zones 5–9. Like with all sweetgum varieties, plant the Worplesdon variety in full sun and well-draining soil.
Sweetgum tree leaves: The sweetgum tree has deeply lobed, star-shaped glossy green leaves. In the autumn, the gleaming pointed leaves become crimson, orange, and yellow.
Sweetgum ‘Variegata’ (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Variegata’)
Due to its variegated creamy-yellow and green star-shaped leaves, the sweetgum ‘Variegata’ is an unusual kind of tree. The sweetgum ‘Variegata’ is a medium-sized bushy tree that thrives in sunny gardens. This mature height of 40 feet (12 meters) and a spread up to 26 feet (8 meters) takes 50 years for this sweetgum variety to reach. In the autumn, sweetgum leaves ‘Variegata’ grow purple, red, or yellow. They are huge, deeply lobed cream-yellow and green leaves.
Sweetgum ‘Lane Roberts’ (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Lane Roberts’)
The sweetgum ‘Lane Roberts,’ a beautiful deciduous landscaping tree for tiny to medium-sized gardens, is an elegant specimen. Star-shaped leaves, small clusters of non-showy flowers, and spiky balls characterize the American sweetgum cultivar. The crimson, virtually black color of the leaves in the autumn makes the ‘Lane Roberts’ sweetgum a favorite.
Oriental Sweetgum (Liquidambar orientalis)
This slow-growing little tree has small lobed leaves with coarsely serrated margins. Oriental sweetgum (Liquidambar orientalis) is the name for this tree and bark. The Liquidambar genus is unusual because of its double lobbing tree leaves. USDA zones 7 through 9 are ideal for the Oriental sweet gum, which grows to be 20 to 30 feet (6 to 10 meters) tall.
In sunny landscapes, the Oriental sweetgum may be either a tiny decorative tree or a huge shrub. Because the balls may fall in winter, it’s not a good idea to plant near sidewalks due to the unruly fruit. In addition, buildings and pathways may be damaged by the shallow root system.
Among the sweetgum varieties, Oriental sweetgum leaves are the tiniest. Up to 3 inches (7.5 cm) across are the double-lobed light green leaves. The leaves turn crimson and yellow in the autumn.
Chinese Sweetgum (Liquidambar formosana)
The Chinese sweetgum is a huge shade tree with spiky gumballs, huge 3-lobed leaves, and a pyramidal crown that matures into an oval-rounded shape with age. This Liquidambar tree may reach 131 feet (40 meters) in height and is also known as Twainese sweet gum or Formosan gum. The Chinese sweetgum thrives in USDA zones 7 – 9, but is less cold-hardy than other sweetgums.
The large leaves distinguish the Chinese sweetgum bark from other species. In contrast to other species, Chinese sweetgum leaves have three lobes rather than five or seven. The triangle shape of the middle lobe is obvious. Sweetgum leaves are 3″ to 6″ (7.5 to 15 cm) broad, ranging in color from white to yellow.
The Chinese sweetgum fruit, like with other kinds of sweetgums that produce spikey balls, may be a litter issue in the autumn. Structures may also be damaged by the shallow rooting system.
Sweetgum seeds and fall colors are a classic combination.
Chang’s Sweetgum (Liquidambar acalycina)
Chang’s sweetgum (Liquidambar acalycina) is a small tree that grows between 30 and 50 feet (10 and 15 meters) tall. It is native to Asia. The three-lobed broadleaves, tiny, hard brown gumballs, and rounded, pyramidal canopy identify Chang’s sweetgum.
In USDA zones 6 through 9, this sweetgum variety thrives in sunny areas. Sweetgum leaves range in size from 3 to 6 inches (7.5 to 15 cm) and resemble maple tree leaves. Three lobes cover each leaf blade, with the center lobe being large and triangle shaped. In the fall, the deep green leaves turn bright crimson to purple.
The balls from Chang’s sweetgum tree are less dangerous to Americans than those from the American sweetgum tree. The ridges on the gumballs are less pronounced, and you’ll have a harder time slipping on the spherical nuts.
Sweetgum ‘Gumball’ (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Gumball’)
A dwarf tree with a rounded growth habit, the American sweetgum cultivar ‘Gumball’ is a dwarf tree. The landscaping tree can grow up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall and broad. From bright green to magnificent purple-red hues, the globular tree changes in the autumn.