Liquidambar styraciflua l.

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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

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'Liquidambar styraciflua' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2021-05-11.

Common Names

  • Sweet gum


Attached singly along the axis not in pairs or whorls.
Lacking hairs smooth. glabrescent Becoming hairless.
Flower-bearing part of a plant; arrangement of flowers on the floral axis.
Lance-shaped; broadest in middle tapering to point.
Egg-shaped; broadest towards the stem.
Inflorescence in which flowers sessile on the main axis.


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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

Recommended citation
'Liquidambar styraciflua' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2021-05-11.

A deciduous tree up to 150 ft high in the wild, but not much more than half as high in England. It has a straight, erect trunk, with slender branches forming (as the tree is usually seen in this country) a narrow, pyramidal head. Branchlets glabrous and round at first, but during their second year they turn grey, and often begin to form corky wings after the fashion of the English elm, but in some trees the branchlets remain quite smooth. Leaves maple-like, usually five- sometimes seven-lobed, 5 to 7 in. wide, scarcely as long, heart-shaped at the base, the lobes minutely toothed, ovate-lanceolate; upper surface glabrous and glossy, the lower one with tufts of hair in the axils of the veins; stalk slender, 212 to 4 in. long. Male flowers in small round heads arranged on a downy spike 2 or 3 in. long; female inflorescence rather larger, 12 in. wide. Seed-vessels in a roundish cluster 1 to 112 in. across.

Native of the eastern United States, often in swampy ground, and also of Mexico and Guatemala. It was introduced in the 17th century, and has long been valued for its stately form and handsome foliage. It is often mistaken for a maple, but from all maples is, of course, distinguished by the alternate leaves. In autumn its foliage turns to shades of purple, crimson, and orange. The tree produces a fragrant resin, known as ‘sweet gum’. The timber, although not of first quality, is largely imported under the name of ‘satin walnut’, for furniture making. Under cultivation it likes a good deep soil, and a moderately moist but not a swampy position.

The largest tree at Kew, situated in the Liquidambar collection, measures 90 × 7 ft (1965) and there is a smaller specimen of 62 × 434 ft by the Clematis wall (1967). At Syon House the largest is 93 × 834 ft (1967); this was about 75 × 6 ft in 1904. Others near London are: Mote Park, Maidstone, 82 × 534 ft, and Linton Park, Maidstone, 85 × 6 ft (1965), both superb trees, the latter with a 45-ft bole; Royal Horticultural Society Garden, Wisley, Surrey, 72 × 612 ft (1964); Knap Hill nurseries, Surrey, 69 × 8 ft (1962); Lydhurst, Sussex, 69 × 334 ft (1965); Stratfield Saye, Hants, 87 × 9 ft (1968). Farther west the most notable specimens are: Escot, Devon; 74 × 934 ft and 90 × 7 ft (1965); Arley Castle, Worcs., 72 × 5 ft (1961); Westonbirt, Glos., in The Downs, 67 × 714 ft (1967).

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

specimens: Kew, by the former Clematis Wall, 60 × 514 ft (1981); Syon Park, London, 100 × 914 ft (1982); Osterley Park, London, 92 × 534 ft and 80 × 734 ft (1982); Ebernoe House, Northchapel, Sussex, 72 × 7 ft (1983); Knap Hill Nursery, Surrey, 82 × 834 ft (1974); The Rookeries, Dorking, Surrey, 95 × 7 ft (1983); Lydhurst, Warninglid, Sussex, 77 × 414 ft (1980); Buxted Park, Sussex, 87 × 612 ft (1978); Linton Park, Kent, 87 × 634 ft (1984); Stratfield Saye, Hants, 95 × 10 ft (1982); Westonbirt, Glos., 65 × 734 ft (1977); Escot, Devon, 85 × 6 ft (1982).

Raised from seed, the sweet gum is unreliable in its autumn colour and also of unpredictable habit. Two British-raised clones colouring well are: ‘Worplesdon’ (Messrs Jackman) and ‘Lane Roberts’ (Messrs Hillier). Others have been selected and named in Australia, New Zealand and the USA, but these are as yet untested in this country

There is some doubt about the correct nomenclature of the variegated clones. As the Hillier Manual has it, in ‘Aurea’ the leaves are marked with yellow and colour well in autumn; while in ‘Variegata’ they have a creamy white margin and a grey and green centre.

As noted on page 583, the sweet gum is also a native of Mexico and Guatemala. It is in fact one of a contingent of woody species that have their main home in eastern North America, but appear again after a wide gap in the cloud-forests of the Sierra Madre del Sur. Seed was collected in 1983 by J. R. Russell at Jalapa in Veracruz State, where it forms forests at 4-5,000 ft, with Carpinus caroliniana, Ostrya virginiana and Nyssa sylvatica, and is almost evergreen.


Branches without corky bark. Leaves brilliantly coloured in the autumn. Distributed by Messrs Marchant of Wimborne, Dorset.


Main stem pendulous at the top; branches pendulous, forming a narrow crown. Described by Rehder from a tree found growing in Arkansas around 1935.


leaves marked with yellow.