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Sweet Gum
Hamamelidaceae
Liquidambar styraciflua


Thunder
Thunder
Type Categories Useful Parts

Tree


Hamamelidaceae Family

Liquidambar Genus
Other Names for this Plant

Sweet Gum Tree, Liquidambar - Alligator-Wood, Bilsted, Liquidambar, Redgum, Star-Leaved Gum


Location

Eastern North America from southern New York west to southern Missouri and east Texas and south to central Florida, and in Mexico from southern Nuevo Leon south to Chiapas, as well as in Guatemala and El Salvador

Physical Description
It is a medium-sized to large tree, growing to 20-35 m (exceptionally 41 m) tall, with a trunk up to 2 m diameter. The leaves are palmately lobed, 7-19 cm (rarely to 25 cm) long and broad and with a 6-10 cm petiole, looking somewhat similar to those of some maples. They have five sharply pointed lobes, but are easily distinguished from maples in being arranged alternately, not in opposite pairs. They are a rich dark green and glossy, and in most cases turn brilliant orange, red, and purple colors in the autumn. A small percentage of trees are evergreen or semi-evergreen, with negligible fall color, especially in the extreme southern part of its range. In the northern part of its range, as well as in colder areas that it has been planted in, the leaves are often killed by frost while still green. The roots are fibrous; juices are balsamic.

The starry five-pointed leaves of the Liquidambar suggest the Sugar Maple, and its fruit balls as they hang upon their long stems resemble those of the Buttonwood. The distinguishing mark of the tree, however, is the peculiar appearance of its small branches and twigs. The bark attaches itself to these in plates edgewise instead of laterally, and a piece of the leafless branch with the aid of a little imagination readily takes on a reptilian form; indeed, the tree is sometimes called Alligator-wood.

The male and female inflorescences are on different branches of the same tree. The fruit, popularly nick-named a "space bug", "monkey ball", "bommyknocker", "bir ball", "gumball" "cukoo-bir" or "sticky ball", is a hard, dry, globose, compound fruit 2.5-4 cm in diameter and composed of numerous (20-50) capsules. Each capsule has a pair of terminal spikes, and contains one to two small seeds.




Compare Species
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Hamamelidaceae
Saxifragales
Saxifragales
Rock Breaker Order
Core Eudicots
Core Eudicots
Main, Real, Two First-Leaves (Dicots)
Eudicots
Eudicots
Real, Two First-Leaves (Dicots)
Mesangiospermae
Mesangiospermae
Half Capsule Seed Division
Magnoliophyta
Magnoliophyta
Magnolia Division
Spermatophytes
Spermatophytes
Seed Plants
Euphyllophytina
Real Land Plants
Polysporangiates
Multiple Spore Sub-Kingdom
Stomatophytes
Stomatophytes
Air Pores Sub-Kingdom
Embryophytes
Embryophytes
Multicellular Land Plants
Streptobionta
Streptobionta
Multicellular Plants
Plantae
Plantae
Plants
Eukaryota
Eukaryota
Cells with a Nucleus


General Information

The earliest record of the tree appears to be in a Spanish work by F. Hernandez, published in 1651, in which he describes it as a large tree producing a fragrant gum resembling liquid amber, whence the name. In Ray's Historia Plantarum (1686) it is called Styrax liquida. It was introduced into Europe in 1681 by John Banister, the missionary collector sent out by Bishop Compton, who planted it in the palace gardens at Fulham.

Medicinal Uses: American storax, a balsam or viscid resin with medicinal uses, is obtained from the tree.

A resin obtained from the trunk of the tree is antiseptic, carminative, diuretic, expectorant, parasiticide, poultice, salve, sedative, stimulant, vulnerary. It is chewed in the treatment of sore throats, coughs, asthma, cystitis, dysentery etc. Externally, it is applied to sores, wounds, piles, ringworm, scabies etc. The resin is an ingredient of 'Friar's Balsam', a commercial preparation based on Styrax benzoin that is used to treat colds and skin problems. The mildly astringent inner bark is used in the treatment of diarrhoea and childhood cholera

Food Uses: A chewing gum and a stabilizer for cakes etc is obtained from the resin. It can also be chewed to sweeten the breath

Other Notes: Sweetgum is one of the most important commercial hardwoods in the Southeast and the

handsome hard wood is put to a great many uses, one of which is veneer for plywood. The wood is very compact and fine-grained, the heartwood being reddish, and, when cut into planks, marked transversely with blackish belts. Sweetgum is used principally for lumber, veneer, plywood, slack cooperage, railroad ties, fuel, and pulpwood. The lumber is made into boxes and crates, furniture, radio-, television-, and phonograph cabinets, interior trim, and millwork. The veneer and plywood are used for boxes, pallets, crates, baskets, and interior woodwork. Being readily dyed black, it is sometimes used instead of ebony for picture frames, and other similar uses, but it is too liable to decay for outdoor work

: Mixed with tobacco, the gum was once used for smoking at the court of the Mexican emperors. It was long used in France as a perfume for gloves and other such items. It is mainly produced in Mexico, little being obtained from trees growing in higher latitudes of North America, or in England.

An American Sweetgum will be featured as part of the Memorial Grove at the World Trade Center Memorial, with installation set for fall 2008 and spring 2009





Sweet Gum
Fall leaves



Sweet Gum
Fall leaf



Sweet Gum
Young seedpod



Sweet Gum
Monkeyball seedpod and leaf





Sweet Gum
Tree



Sweet Gum
Bark of a large tree

Comment: Sweet Gum, Liquidambar styraciflua

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