Liquidambar styraciflua L.

sweet gum, American sweet gum, red gum
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Liquidambar styraciflua
Elena Torres & Santiago Moreno
Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

Liquidambar styraciflua: Appearance of two young specimens in summer

Appearance of two young specimens in summerSuberose bark of a branch, almost like that of the cork oakBranch with alternate leaves that tend to be arranged in two opposite rows; leaves are palmately 5-lobedBranch with a raceme of male heads (on the right) and a solitary female head with a long stalk (on the left)Branch with 4 immature infructescences, each formed by numerous capsules crowned by the persistent and hardened style; a withered male inflorescence is visible distally

Liquidambar: Liquid amber, referring to the aromatic resin of these trees

styraciflua: from "styrax" (Gr.): styrax, the name of a resin and the shrub that produces it, and "fluo" = flow, ooze


Habit: Deciduous, monoecious tree 10-20 m tall (up to 40 m when wild), with an open conical or pyramidal crown, a straight trunk with scale-like bark, branches with crests of suberose bark, and reddish twigs with marked leaf scars and caducous rusty hairs.

Leaves: alternate, deciduous, simple, with long deciduous stipules and a long petiole 5-10 cm long; blade 7-20 cm long x 4-16 cm wide, with a suborbicular outline, palmately lobed with 5-7 triangular-ovate lobes with dentate margins, sparsely covered with hairs between the veins on the underside and with a resinous smell when crushed.

Flowers: unisexual, small and not showy on globose inflorescences arranged in terminal racemes (male flowers) or solitary, axillary and hanging (female flowers); male flowers naked, with 4-10 stamens; female flowers apetalous, with an obconical gamosepalous calyx, with 4 staminodes and a syncarpous, 2-carpellate, 2-locular gynoecium with a seed ovary and free styles.

Fruit: capsule crowned by the 2 persistent styles; infructescences 2.5-5 cm in diam., globose, woody, echinulate. Seeds compressed with a short terminal wing.


It flowers in spring; fruits mature in autumn.

Geographic origin

Native to E and S North America and part of C America.


Although its leaves could be confused with those of some species of maples (genus Acer), they are opposite.

It is often cultivated as an ornamental tree, particularly because of the showy red colour of its foliage in autumn. It was used as a medicinal plant by native Americans. It produces a balsamic oleoresin, called American styrax, which is obtained from the bark and used as an aromatic fixative in perfumery and for other purposes. Its timber is used to manufacture panelling, furniture and mouldings, and its pulp is used to produce fine paper.

It is propagated from seeds or softwood cuttings.

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