is a large tree, up to 100 feet tall, with a pyramid-shaped crown. The
trunk diameter sometimes exceeds three feet. It grows on a wide range of
sites in Illinois, but occurs most frequently on bottomlands in the southern
parts of the state.
styraciflua is commonly referred to as sweetgum because of the brownish
yellow sap it produces when the bark is cut. The name Liquidambar
is from the Latin liquidus, meaning fluid or liquid and the Arabic
ambar, referring to amber, both being references to the sap. The sweetgum
sap is also referred to as American styrax (hence the species name, styraciflua)
and some use it as a chewing gum.
is dark gray and forms scaly, regular ridges.
are very distinctive. They are alternate, simple and star-shaped, with
5 to 7 points. The margins of the leaves are finely toothed.
and female flowers are borne on the same tree closely packed into rounded
are distinctive, spiny, long-stemmed balls that contain many seeds, most
of which do not germinate. Songbirds and squirrels eat sweetgum seeds,
and the fruits are sometimes painted and used as Christmas decorations.
is hard and durable and is used for furniture, barrels, wooden bowls, cabinets,
and interior finishing. In addition to using the sap as chewing gum, Native
Americans and settlers used the sap to treat a wide variety of ailments
in both humans and domestic animals. Native Americans used the roots and
bark to treat skin disorders, diarrhea, fevers and other ailments. Sweetgum
is frequently planted as an ornamental.