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Home > Resources > North Carolina Trees > Sweetgum


(Liquidambar styraciflua L.)


Sweetgum, also known as redgum, is a large, valuable forest tree. Except for the high mountains, sweetgum grows on rich river bottoms, in swamps that frequently flood, and on drier uplands throughout the state. This tree grows best on rich bottomlands, and reaches heights of 120 feet and diameters of 4 feet or more. On most sites, the tree averages 60 to 80 feet in height and 2 to 3 feet in diameter.

Sweetgurn is easily recognized by its star-shaped leaves, which are composed of five (occasionally seven) deeply separated, pointed lobes. Its broad leaves have long petioles (stems), and toothed margins. The leaves are palmately veined and 5 to 7 inches long. The leaves turn deep red to maroon in autumn.

The fruit is a globose head and is composed of many beak-shaped capsules, which contain two tiny seeds. The fruit which persists through the winter is I to 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and is on a stalk. The bark is light gray and roughened by corky scales. As the tree matures, the bark becomes deeply furrowed. After the second year, the twigs may develop two to four corky projections of the bark, giving them a winged appearance.

The wood is heavy, moderately hard, close-grained and, on exposure, is not durable. Red gum may get its name from its reddish-brown heartwood, which is not present to any appreciable extent in logs smaller than 16 inches in diameter.

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.

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