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The Sweetgum Tree (Liquidambar styraciflua)

While you may not have thought about it much, if you live in the eastern United States, you most likely have seen this tree. The sweetgum tree is a very popular tree added to many homes and apartment complexes due to its beautiful seasonal color changes. However, we will soon discover why this tree has become loathed in recent decades.

Physical Description and Behavior

These trees are very common hardwood trees. They can grow as high as 45 m (150 ft) and can have a trunk 60–90 cm (2–3 ft) in diameter, living for up to 400 years. Their 5-point leaves are about 8–13 cm (3–5 in) wide and change from green in the spring to a beautiful reddish-orange color in the fall.

Fun Fact: While this tree is praised for its beauty, it is also lamented due to its seed pods. These seedpods are about an inch in diameter and start out as hard green spiky fruits. These fruits contain 40-60 seed pods, each containing 2 seeds, that are then eaten by birds, chipmunks, and squirrels.

However, after the seeds are dispersed, the pod does not quickly break down. They will dry out while on the tree and fall to the ground as hard, sharp, wooden balls that can be super painful if walked on. Mowing your lawn with these on the ground often turns them into high-speed projectiles, which cause various injuries.

Another little fun fact: This name "Liquidambar" actually comes from its harvested sap, which is referred to as "liquid amber." This sweet-tasting sap would be boiled down until it solidified. This solidified sap would be used for medicinal reasons and flavorings, such as for gum, ergo "sweetgum".

Habitat and Location

These trees are almost exclusively found in the eastern United States, in states like Texas all the way to Florida and as high north as Connecticut. It can also be found in small areas of Mexico and South America as well, such as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, these trees will grow in Hardiness Zones 5–9. That said, it rarely leaves this area due to not fairing well in higher altitudes and colder temperatures.

They are considered to be of Least Concern according to the IUCN Red List, mainly due to their widespread nature as residential trees in the US.

If you want to learn more, check out this video below!

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