37. Sweetgum

(Liquidambar styraciflua)

Other Common Name: Liquidambar

Family: Hamamelidaceae


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Sweetgum trees stand between the Art building and MacKenzie Hall. They are vigorous shade trees from the southeastern United States with star-shaped leaves that smell sweetly resinous if scratched. From the leaf shape you might think it a maple, except that no maple can match the sweet odor. Moreover, maple leaves and twigs are opposite one another, whereas sweetgum leaves are alternate like those of most trees. Several features make sweetgum one of the most popular urban ornamental trees. It is strong, adaptable to varied soil conditions, and produces a safe, handsome crown of branches. The fall leaf color can be spectacular red usually changing from green later in the season than most trees. Practically no insects or diseases bother this species. A drawback is its prickly seedballs littering the ground, crunching underfoot.

Sweet gum resin can be used as a stabilizer in cakes and other foods and can be chewed to sweeten the breath. It also has medicinal, incense, perfume, soap, and adhesive uses. The wood is fine-grained with red heartwood that displays traverse blackish belts when cut. It is used for lumber, veneer, plywood, and railroad ties. The lumber is used to produce boxes and crates, furniture, and radio, television, and phonograph cabinets.

[Leaves and seed pods of Sweetgum]

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