Liquidambar | Sweet Gum Trees

Liquidambar or Sweet Gum trees are some of the very best trees for autumn colour, with the foliage turning wonderful vibrant shades of red, orange, yellow and purple. The star-shaped leaves are reminiscent of Maple leaves and further interest is provided by woody seed clusters in winter that are known as "gumballs".

Liquidambar is a small genus of large trees. As well as the wonderful aesthetics of the leaves, they also have a pleasant aroma, especially when crushed. Liquidambar bark is grey with vertical grooves and the flowers are small but appear in dense clusters. Liquidambar trees produce fruits called ‘gumballs’ which are woody balls with spikes containing seeds. It is thought the fruits have spikes so to attach themselves to the fur of small animals to help in dispersing the seeds.

History and Uses of Liquidambar Trees

The common name Sweet Gum comes from the thick sap it produces. Named by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 from the Latin liquidus meaning fluid and the Arabic ambar in reference to the sap which oozes from the bark when wounded. Liquidambar trees were first introduced to the UK by John Bannister, a U.S botanist, in 1681. Bannister was employed by Henry Compton the Bishop of London who planted the trees in the Fulham Palace gardens. However, the Spanish naturalist Hernandez was the first European to discover the tree in the early 16th century.

Sweet Gum trees have been used in cultivation and different cultures for many years. Some of its uses include:

  • Classed as a hardwood and second only to Oak, Liquidambar wood has been used for making furniture, baskets and as imitation mahogany
  • The hardened sap can be chewed like gum and has been used like this for many years in southern parts of the U.S
  • Used in Chinese Herbal medicine, the spikey fruit called lu lu tong meaning 'all roads open' has been used to promote blood movement, and treating abdominal, back and knee pain

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  • Liquidambar styraciflua 'Worplesdon' Tree
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