Sweetgum

Common name

Sweetgum

Scientific name

Liquidambar styraciflua L.

Family

Altingiaceae

Botanical description

Sweetgum is a tall tree that loses its leaves in the winter. It can grow up to 65-115 feet (20-35 meters) in height and has a straight trunk with a pyramid-shaped or rounded crown of leaves at the top. The tree’s bark is greyish-brown and has deep grooves running along it.

The leaves of the Sweetgum tree are arranged alternately on the branches and have a simple structure. They are shaped like a hand with 5-7 fingers (lobes) and are 3-7.5 inches (7-19 cm) long. In the spring, the tree produces small, yellowish-green flowers that are either male or female.

The fruits of the Sweetgum tree are woody, round, and spiky balls that are about 1-1.6 inches (2.5-4 cm) in diameter. Inside these fruit capsules, there are many small seeds.

Status

Native to North America and widely cultivated as an ornamental tree.

Habitat and distribution

Sweet Gum is native to the eastern United States, ranging from southern Connecticut to central Florida, and extending west to Illinois, Missouri, and eastern Texas. It grows in rich, moist soils of bottomlands, river valleys, and swamp margins.

Parts used for food

The hardened sap, known as “Sweetgum,” and the seeds are edible.

Harvest time

The sap can be harvested year-round, while the seeds are collected in the fall when the fruits mature.

Food uses

The hardened sap can be chewed like a gum or used as a flavouring agent. The seeds can be roasted and eaten.

Nutritional profile

Limited information is available on the nutritional profile of Sweet Gum. The seeds contain fatty acids and amino acids.

Traditional medicine uses

Sweetgum has been used in traditional medicine for various purposes. The bark has been used to treat diarrhoea, dysentery, and wounds. The resin has been used as an expectorant and to treat skin ailments.

Other uses

The wood of Sweet Gum is used for furniture, veneer, and pulpwood. The tree is also widely planted as an ornamental for its attractive fall foliage.

Safety notes

Sweet Gum is generally considered safe when consumed in food amounts. However, the safety of medicinal use has not been well studied.

References

Couplan, F. (1998). The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America. McGraw-Hill.

Duke, J. A. (2002). Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. CRC Press.

Flora of North America Editorial Committee. (2016). Flora of North America North of Mexico, Volume 12: Magnoliophyta: Vitaceae to Garryaceae. Oxford University Press.

Grimm, W. C. (1983). The Illustrated Book of Trees. Stackpole Books.

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