Liquidambar styraciflua

American Sweetgum




  • cold hardy to zone 5
  • native to Eastern United States, from Southwestern Connecticut to Florida
  • also found in Mountains of Mexico and Guatemala

Habit and Form

  • deciduous shade tree
  • typically 60 to 80' tall and 40 to 60' wide
  • can easily exceed 100' tall
  • Pyramidal when young, oblong to rounded when mature
  • usually maintains a single leader
  • medium to fast grower

Summer Foliage

  • alternate "maple-like" star shaped leaves
  • leaves are 5- to 7- lobed, 4 to 8" long and wide
  • margins serrate
  • dark to medium glossy green
  • camphor odor when crushed

Autumn Foliage

  • typically quite showy on most individuals
  • best trees are orange, red, burgundy, and purplish
  • some trees drop leaves yellow and green


  • monoecious
  • yellowish-green in May
  • not showy


  • 1 to 1.5" spiny balls; change from green to brown
  • look like a mace weapon
  • become noticeable in the late summer and fall
  • persist in winter


  • grayish brown
  • deeply furrowed with narrow ridges
  • stem bark is reddish or yellowish brown and shiny
  • some trees develop interesting corky ridges on 2 year old stems


  • prefer deep, moist, bottomland soils
  • best in full sun, does okay in partial shade
  • transplant B&B due to fleshy, coarse root system
  • use larger plants when transplanting in colder areas to avoid cold injury to twigs

Landscape Uses

  • lawn tree or shade tree for larger residences
  • for fall color
  • street tree where ample room is provided
  • parks and campuses


  • chlorosis on high pH soils
  • lack of cold hardiness, especially young trees
  • because of wide geographical range it is important to use northern seed sources for trees in New England or the Northeast
  • has a shallow root system
  • spiny fruit balls can be a litter problem

ID Features

  • distinguish from maples because leaves are alternate
  • aromatic foliage
  • distinct shiny fruit balls
  • star shaped pith
  • relatively large terminal and flower buds
  • corky ridges on stems (often absent)
  • for young trees habit is distinctly pyramidal


  • very easy form seed
  • cultivars must be grafted or micro-propagated


'Grazam' (Grandmaster™) - This new pyramidal selection grows 50' tall and wide with glossy green leaves that turn shades of red-purple and orange in fall.

'Gumball' and 'Oconee' - These cultivars are both notable for their dwarf, multi-stemmed shrubby habit to 15' tall with a smaller spread. They exhibit good fall color, with 'Oconee' expressing better cold-hardiness.

'Moraine' - Probably the most common cultivar in the industry, this plant has a uniform upright rounded habit. It is faster growing and more hardy than other forms, plus it features good red fall color.

'Rotundiloba' -This is an interesting form whose leaves have rounded lobes. It appears to set fruit rarely or never. The degree of fall color varies widely each year; in addition the tree can develop narrow branch crotch angles and a more open habit. It is probably only cold hardy to -10, but a tree in Storrs, CT has survived several winters without injury. Due to its non-fruiting habit, it may be a viable choice for warmer zones.

"Shadow Columnar Form" - An as yet unnamed selection with a remarkable fastigiate, columnar habit. Woody plant expert Michael Dirr feels this plant has great commercial potential.

'Variegata' (may be the same as 'Aurea' and 'Goduzam' (Gold Dust™))- One of the finest variegated, hardy shade trees, this plant is a strong grower to 60' tall with a narrower spread. The leaves are mottled with cream areas that intensify as the season progresses. The habit is oval-rounded and the plant exhibits good cold-hardiness. Other variegated forms include 'Silver King' and 'Golden Treasure', with margined leaves.

© Copyright Mark H. Brand, 1997-2015.

The digital materials (images and text) available from the UConn Plant Database are protected by copyright. Public use via the Internet for non-profit and educational purposes is permitted. Use of the materials for profit is prohibited.

Citation and Acknowledgements: University of Connecticut Plant Database,, Mark H. Brand, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, Storrs, CT 06269-4067 USA.