Sweet gum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) are a common sight in the eastern United States and in several Central American and southern Mexican regions. T
Sweet gum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) are a common sight in the eastern United States and in several Central American and southern Mexican regions. This stately tree, reaching heights up to 150 feet, makes an imposing sight in the outdoors. Deciduous sweet gum trees go by many other names, including star-leaved gum, redgum, storax and alligator wood. Hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 to 9, sweet gum trees have characteristic five-lobed leaves that take on gorgeous colors in the fall. These hardy perennials are typically found in nature around the edges of swamps and in moist soils of low lying areas.
Ornamental and Landscape Uses
Sweet gum trees make beautiful additions to landscapes. Their size and large, full crowns provide abundant shade to gardens, sidewalks, parks and streets. Their foliage takes on a range of fall colors, including orange, to yellow, red and purple, livening up the landscape. Sweet gum trees also serve as privacy barriers and provide seclusion in gardens.
Sweet gum trees have various medicinal uses. Their fruit is effective against rheumatic pain. The bark has astringent properties and addresses dysentery and diarrhea. Gum resin from the trees has anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties and has been used to treat bedsores, topical herpes and angina. Boiled and cooled sap from sweet gum trees makes a balm that is rich in cinnamic acid, benzyl, ethyl and cinnamyl cinnamate. This medicinally potent balm has been used to treat various ailments, including skin problems.
Native American Cherokee tribes applied resin from the tree to treat wounds.
Timber from the sweet gum tree is a finely textured, moderately heavy white colored sapwood with a light pink tint. Its heartwood is variable and ranges from dark brown to a lighter, reddish brown. Sweet gum wood is valued for its attractive, interlocked grain. It easily takes on staining, painting and is moderately easy to shape and bore. Sweet gum wood is commercially used for electronic cabinetry, furniture, doors, millwork and paneling. It is also used to make baskets, railroad ties, crates and pallets. Sweet gum wood is also used to make plywood, veneer and upholstered furniture frames.
In their native habitat sweet gum trees provide cover for forest animals, including Eastern gray squirrels, wood ducks, white-tailed deer, mourning doves, green darners, Carolina chickadees and beavers. Seed-rich sweet gum pods make food for squirrels, chipmunks and birds.
Trees are fast growing and resistant to insect attack, which makes them useful in land reclamation and reforestation projects. They are used to reclaim former zinc and phosphorous mines. Sweet gum trees also fix nitrogen in the soil and improve its fertilit