Random Plant: Sweetgum

Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua, Hamamelidaceae) photographed 05/15/2012 near Scottsburg, Indiana.

When visiting my wife’s family in southern Indiana this weekend, I noticed this tall, straight sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua, Hamamelidaceae) growing in her grandma’s yard. I’ve never seen one of these here in Michigan, and with good reason. The native range of this tree is restricted to lower elevations in the southeastern United States and parts of Central America.

Leaf of a sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua, Hamamelidaceae) photographed 05/15/2012 near Scottsburg, Indiana.

Sweetgum foliage has a pretty distinct appearance, with the pointed five-lobed leaves looking somewhat like stars. They’re glossy green in the spring and summer, and in the autumn they exhibit some exceptional fall color.

Fruit of a sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua, Hamamelidaceae) photographed 05/15/2012 near Scottsburg, Indiana. Quarter for scale.

These trees grow seeds within fruit known as “gumballs.” Hard, brown, and spiky when ripe, they can litter the ground in large numbers in the fall and winter. Stepping on them barefoot can be painful. Ask me how I know.

Leaves and fruit of a sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua, Hamamelidaceae) photographed 05/15/2012 near Scottsburg, Indiana.

Sweetgums flower in the early spring, and by now in mid-spring they’re already growing new gumballs. In the photo above you can see the softer, green gumballs growing amid the foliage, preparing to disperse the next generation of seeds.

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About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Botany, Random Plant and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Random Plant: Sweetgum

  1. beth says:

    Having lived for the last 30 years here in Minnesota, I don’t believe I’ve seen one of these very familiar seedpods in decades; its nice to finally know what they are. Thank you for a trip down memory lane.

    Like

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