Sweet Gum : Overview

Sweet Gum

A mature Liquidambar styraciflua standing tall in spring (Jean No, 2005)

By: Elise Mench


Liquidambar styraciflua, commonly known as sweet gum goes by many other names including star-leaved gum and alligator wood. Liquidambar is a small genus belonging to the witch-hazel family. They have palmately pointed leaves, and are noted for their fragrance as well as their brilliant foliage in the fall. This leaf structure is where the “star-leaved” name comes from. The common name “sweet gum” is derived from the red resin known as storax, which can be harvested from its inner bark and serves a variety of purposes. The Latin genus name liquidis joined with Arabic ambar means “liquid amber”, the appearance of this semi-transparent yellowish brown resin. Some of the uses of this resin include a chewing gum for native tribes as well as a topical way to treat wounds. The tree is native to the southeastern region of the United States where its foliage and leaf fall is reliant on weather conditions, meaning trees in warmer climates are less likely to lose their foliage. One of its most defining characteristics is the spikey fruits that dangle from the branch ends and look like ornaments on a tree.