Sweetgum is a large, fast-growing, long-lived tree that is relatively disease and pest free. It can be found in the eastern regions of Texas. In the U.S., it grows throughout the southeastern states and in the mountains of Mexico.
Can reach a height of 150 feet
Has palmately-lobed, alternating star-shaped leaves with serrated edges
Produces very small green flowers in the spring and fruit in the fall
Fruits are ball-shaped, up 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter, with hornlike or “beaked” styles yielding 1-2 viable flat-winged seeds
Sweetgum has been propagated since the 1600’s. It has been used in landscaping projects for many years because, with the right temperature, the leaves turn brilliant shades of red and yellow in the fall, much like the maple.
Sweetgum is in the genus Liquidambar, which refers to the amber-colored sap that has many uses. Medicines, ointments, perfumes in soap, chewing gum, and syrups are just a few products made from the sap. The wood has many applications because it is reddish-brown and takes a high polish. It is used for flooring, furniture, and many other applications.
Sweetgum has a history of use by the Aztecs and was widely used by Confederate doctors to treat skin diseases, dysentery and for healing wounds.
Sweetgum fruit is important as a food source for wildlife. It has been documented to be used by more than 25 species of birds. It is an important part of the diet for gray squirrels and many other wildlife species.
Editor’s note: Kent Ferguson, retired rangeland management specialist from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is providing us with plant identification photo stories to help ranchers identify those forbs, forages and species growing in the pastures. Additional photos provided by USDA NRCS.
American Sweetgum is excerpted from the October 2018 issue of The Cattleman magazine.
The Cattleman magazine is received monthly by TSCRA members as part of their membership in the organization.
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