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Native or Introduced to Illinois: native
Natural Habit in Illinois: bottomland and floodplain woods; ravines
Leaf: The star-shaped leaves, somewhat resemble maple leaves, except that they are arranged alternately instead of opposite. The leaves are 18 cm wide with long, thin petioles (6-15mm). Actively growing leaves are fragrant when crushed. They are palmate in shape with five to seven lobes and saw-toothed margins. Glossy-green in summer, the leaves turn bright yellow to deep red in the fall. The undersides of the leaves are pale green with a coating of fine white hairs.
Flower: The small, greenish inconspicuous flowers have no true petals.
Fruit: The woody, ball-shaped, pendulous, burr-like fruits (3-4 cm) contain numerous, small seeds (1 cm) that are winged at one end. The seeds are contained in beak-like capsules to protrude from the surface (1 to 2 per capsule).
Twig: Young twigs are rusty red and frequently develop wings of corky bark.
Bark: The mature bark is rough, deeply furrowed and grayish brown.
The sweetgum tree was used by the Cherokee, Choctaw, Koasati, Rappahannock and
other Native American tribes for various purposes. The hardened gum, or rosin from the tree was used as chewing
gum. A piece of the bark was
knocked from the tree. After one
week, the sap from the wound was hardened and could be collected and used for
chewing gum. Tea was made from both
the fruits and the bark. The
hardened sap was rolled up and then placed in a dog’s nose to treat distemper. A salve was made by mixing the plant with animal tallow for
application to wounds, cuts, sores, bruises, and ulcers.
The plant was boiled until a scum rose to the top.
This scum was then mixed with the roots of Obolaria
virginica and used as a dressing for cuts and bruises.
The roots were boiled into a strong tea to treat skin sores that were
possibly caused by small worms under the skin.
A “drawing plaster” was made from the gum. Ten to a dozen drops of the sap were taken before meals to
reduce fevers. The sap and inner
bark were used to treat diarrhea and dysentery.
The bark was used to make an infusion that was used as a sedative for
nervous patients and for patients who were well in the day but sick during the
night. The plant was used to treat
colic, internal diseases and to “comfort the heart.”
Goldfinches, purplefinches, mallard ducks, bobwhite quails, Carolina chickadees,
yellow-bellied sapsuckers, white-throated sparrows, towhees, Carolina wrens,
squirrels, and chipmunks eat the seeds of sweetgum trees.
Beavers use the wood for constructing dams.
Other: Liquidambars are valued for their timber and for the aromatic sap, called styrax. The timber provides pulp, veneer and lumber. The wood is used in cabinetry, home interiors, boxes and utensils. The balsamic sap is used as an ingredient in both medicine and perfume.
County Distribution Map for Illinois:
Sources for the Sullivan Middle School Tree Identification Guide were obtained though the use of the following sites:
- Illinois Plant Information Network (ILPIN) @ http://www.fs.fed.us/ne/delaware/ilpin/ilpin.html#Background
- List of Woody Plants Native or Naturalized in Illinois @ http://www.inhs.uiuc.edu/~kenr/woody.html
- Tree Species @ http://ostermiller.org/tree/species.html
- Index to Eastern/Central Trees @ http://www.arborday.org/trees/ECtreelist.html
- ISU Forestry Extension Identification of Common Trees of Iowa @ http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Pages/tree/
- Key to Leaves of Virginia Trees @ http://www.fw.vt.edu/dendro/forsite/key/intro.htm
- List of Native Trees for Use Along Roadsides in Illinois @ http://www.inhs.uiuc.edu/~kenr/treetable.html
- The PLANTS Database @ http://plants.usda.gov/
The information below is from the National Arbor Day Foundation. This information can be viewed in the original (source) form by visiting The National Arbor Day Foundation at http://www.arborday.org.
Sun Exposure: The sweetgum does well in Full sun.
Soil Type: The sweetgum grows in acidic, loamy, moist, clay, sandy, wet, well-drained, wide range of soils.
Moisture: Requires moist soil conditions, moderate drought tolerance.
Growth Rate: This tree grows at a medium to fast growth rate.
Hardiness Zones: 5 - 9
The sweetgum can be expected to grow in the zones shown in color in the arborday.org zone map.