NC Native Plant Society:
Plant Details

Liquidambar styraciflua

Sweet Gum, Red Gum, Sweetgum

Scientific Name:

Liquidambar styraciflua



Species Epithet:


Common Name:

Sweet Gum, Red Gum, Sweetgum

Plant Type


Life Cycle


Plant Family

Altingiaceae (Sweet-Gum Family)


NC Native


72-100 ft.

Bloom Color(s):

Yellow, Green


Sun - 6 or more hours of sun per day, Part Shade - 2 to 6 hours of sun per day

Soil Moisture:

Dry, Moist

Bloom Time:

March, April, May

Growing Area:

Mountains, Piedmont, Sandhills, Coastal Plain

Habitat Description:

Swamp forests, floodplains, moist forests, depressional wetlands, old fields, disturbed areas (Weakley 2015). Common throughout NC.

Leaf Arrangement:


Leaf Retention:


Leaf Type:

Leaves veined, not needle-like or scale-like

Leaf Form:


Life Cycle:


Wildlife Value:

Important for Wildlife

Landscape Value:

Suitable for home landscapes


"One of the most spectacular of our trees in the fall; a single tree often has a mixture of green, yellow, orange, dark red, bronze, and purple leaves. The sap was previously gathered as a source of chewing gum. The bark is one of the favorite foods of beavers. Although sometimes thought of as a small and weedy tree, Liquidambar reaches its greatest abundance and size in Coastal Plain swamp forests, where it can reach 2 meters in diameter. Along with such species as Pinus taeda, Quercus phellos, and others, Liquidambar is a good example of a primarily bottomland tree which has proven to be an excellent colonizer of disturbed uplands." (Weakley 2015)

Male (upright) and female (pendulous) flowers

Sweetgum is a bottomland tree that is a successful colonizer of disturbed ground. The round, spiny fruits persisting in winter, star-shaped leaves and corky wings on the twigs are good identifying marks.


Jack Spruill, Hampstead, April 15, 2011

Bark from a young tree, showing sapsucker damage

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, a type of woodpecker, drill holes in trees and consume the sap that runs from the wood. They also feed on the insects attracted to the sap.


Jack Spruill, Hampstead, 2011

Bark of mature tree

Sweetgum is a valuable timber tree, used for furniture, veneer, trim, and pulp.


Paynter, May 2011


In the fall, sweetgum leaves turn brilliant shades of yellow, crimson or maroon.


Paynter, Wilmington, May, 2011

Close-up of fruit (woody capsule)

Orange County, NC

Bettina Darveaux

Corky ridged bark on sapling. Many branches also contain the corky ridges.

Orange County, NC

Bettina Darveaux

One of many leaf colors in the Fall

Orange County, NC

Bettina Darveaux

Colorful Fall foliage

Orange County, NC

Bettina Darveaux


USDA PLANTS Database Record

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