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Plant of the Month: Liquidambar Styraciflua

By Ransoms | 22nd September 2021 | 3 min read

Commonly known as the ‘sweet gum’, Liquidambar styraciflua is a hardy, deciduous tree. Native to warm temperate areas of eastern North America it is noted for its glossy, maple-like leaves and more specifically its attractive autumn colour, Liquidambar styraciflua is a small tree growing to approximately 18-25 ft tall with a spread 8-12 ft. It has a slender, pyramidal habit with shiny dark-green, lobed, palmate alternate leaves. Inconspicuous green-yellow flowers are produced in March. During the autumn, and depending on soil conditions, the leaves turn a brilliant orange and scarlet. This will usually be around October and November.

Liquidambar styraciflua will perform best in a slightly acidic, moist, but well-drained loamy soil. However it can tolerate waterlogged conditions from short periods of time. It will prefer a sheltered position in full sun, but will also tolerate partial shade if need be. Unfortunately it will not do well in the shade of a higher tree canopy. Aim to plant specimen trees between November and March but avoid disturbing the root ball.

Once the desired height has been reached, cut of the tip of the leading shoot to encourage branch development and formation of a canopy. The following year, reduce all new growths by one third and remove any side growths from the main stem. Remove the side growths as soon as they appear by rubbing them off with your thumb. Leaving them until they are shoots which require pruning will encourage further side growths to appear at the base of the cut.

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