Known for its unique star-shaped leaves with outstanding yellow, red, and purple fall color. Sweet-gum can be an excellent shade tree in the right location, away from foot traffic where the spiky "gumball" fruits will not be an annoyance. If an appropriate space is available, check out the cold-hardy cultivar, 'Moraine', which is recommended for northern Illinois.
- Chicago area
- North America
- Residential and parks
- Large tree (more than 40 feet)
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
- Zone 5
- Zone 6
- Zone 7
- Zone 8
- Zone 9
- Acid soil
- Messy fruit/plant parts
- Intolerant of pollution
- Marginally hardy
- Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- Fall color
- Mid spring
- Mid fall
- Game birds
- Insect pollinators
- Small mammals
Size & Form
60 to 75 feet high and 40 to 60 feet wide. In a forest habitat it can reach 80 to 120 feet high.
Young trees are symetrically pyramidal, changing to open, rounded crowns with age.
Tree & Plant Care
A large tree where ample room is provided.
Best in full sun to partial shade in deep, moist, bottomland soils. |
Transplant difficult due to shallow, fleshy, root system. Slow to establish.
Because of wide geographical range, it is important to use northern nursery sources.
Disease, pests, and problems
Iron chlorosis can be a problem in high pH soils.
Disease, pest, and problem resistance
Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.
Native geographic location and habitat
Native to Eastern United States, from Southwestern Connecticut to Florida.
Attracts birds & butterflies
Overwintering seeds attract many birds.
Bark color and texture
Mature trees have a grayish brown, deeply furrowed bark with narrow ridges.
Some trees develop interesting corky ridges on 2 year old stems.
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture
Alternate, maple-like, star shaped leaves are 5 to 7 lobed and 4 to 8 inches long and wide with serrate margins.
The dark to medium glossy green leaves change to a kalidescope of yellow, red, purple tones in the fall.
Leaves have a camphor-like smell when crushed.
Flower arrangement, shape, and size
Monoecious. Non-showy, drooping female flowers are yellowish-green in early spring.
Male flowers are upright, reddish-green in terminal panicles.
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions
Gumball-like, 1 to 1.5 inch, spiny fruits change from green to brown in late summer and fall.
Fruits are a dehiscent capsule and persist into winter.
Considered messy especially near sidewalks and patios.
Cultivars and their differences
Moraine (Liquidambar styraciflua 'Moriane'). An upright, oval habit with excellent red fall color. It is faster growing and a more cold hardy cultivar appropriate for the Chicago region.