name = Sweetgum

image_width = 240px
image_caption = Sweetgum buds in New Orleans during spring
regnum = Plantae
divisio = Magnoliophyta
classis = Magnoliopsida
ordo = Saxifragales
familia = Altingiaceae
genus = "Liquidambar"
genus_authority = L.
subdivision_ranks = Species
subdivision = See text

Sweetgum ("Liquidambar") is a genus of four species of flowering plants in the family Altingiaceae, though formerly often treated in the Hamamelidaceae. They are all large, deciduous trees, 25-40 m tall, with palmately lobed leaves arranged spirally on the stems. The flowers are small, produced in a dense globular inflorescence 1-2 cm diameter, pendulous on a 3-7 cm stem. The fruit is a woody multiple capsule 2-4 cm diameter (popularly called a "gumball"), containing numerous seeds.

*"Liquidambar acalycina" - Chang's Sweetgum (central & southern China)
*"Liquidambar formosana" - Chinese Sweetgum (central & southern China, southern Korea, Taiwan, Laos, northern Vietnam).
*"Liquidambar orientalis" - Oriental Sweetgum or Turkish Sweetgum (southwest Turkey, Greece: Rhodes).
*"Liquidambar styraciflua" - American Sweetgum (eastern North America from New York to Texas and also eastern Mexico to Guatemala).

The genus was much more widespread in the Tertiary, but has disappeared from Europe due to extensive glaciation in the north and the Alps, which has served as a blockade against southward migration. It has also disappeared from western North America due to climate change, and also from the unglaciated (but nowadays too cold) Russian Far East. There are several fossil species of "Liquidambar", showing its relict status today.


The wood is used for furniture, interior finish, paper pulp, veneers and baskets of all kinds. The heartwood once was in furniture, sometimes as imitation mahogany or circassian walnut. It is used widely today in flake and strand boards. Sweetgum is a foodplant for various Lepidoptera caterpillars, such as the gypsy moth.

References and external links

* Hsu, E. & Andews, S. (2005). Tree of the year: Liquidambar. "International Dendrology Society Yearbook" 2004: 11-45.
* Deterministic Plio-Pleistocene extinctions in the European cool-temperate tree flora. "Ecology Letters" 6 (7): 646-653. July 2003.
* [http://web.archive.org/web/20070607165137/http://www.chemistry.org/portal/a/c/s/1/feature_pro.html?id=c373e90a275ac1578f6a17245d830100 Possible link between sweetgum fruit and fighting avian flu] Highlights of American Chemical Society meeting in Atlanta, American Chemical Society, March 2006.
* [http://www.wildwnc.org/trees/Liquidambar_styraciflua.html Trees of Western North Carolina - Sweetgum]

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