Liquidambar styraciflua

First of all, a note for local readers: Adam Gibbs is giving a presentation tonight to the Dunbar Garden Club. I’m planning to attend, circumstances permitting.

Thank you to whatsthatpicture@Flickr aka James (of Catching the Rain weblog) for sharing today’s photograph (original via BPotD Flickr Group Pool). Much appreciated! I also note that James runs the What’s That Picture web site, a “community-based site for anyone who wants to find out where, what, or who is featured in an old picture”, if you’d like to investigate that, as well.

The sweetgum cultivar ‘Lane Roberts’ was posted to BPotD in January 2007: Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Lane Roberts’. Today’s write-up is an expansion of the text made for that brief entry.

Some people occasionally confuse sweetgum trees with maples based on the shape of the leaf (via Bioimages). Absent the fruit, a quick way to distinguish a Liquidambar from an Acer is the leaf arrangement: sweetgums have alternate leaves, while maples have opposite.

When fruit are present, though, there’s no mistaking the two. Maples have “keys”, or more scientifically, samaras. The fruit of Liquidambar, shown in today’s photograph, is a syncarp of capsules, i.e., a conglomerated fruit of individual capsules.

The genus Liquidambar has a curious distribution: eastern North America and Mexico to Guatemala (Liquidambar styraciflua), Turkey and Greece (Liquidambar orientalis) and southeast Asia (Liquidambar acalycina and Liquidambar formosana). Fossil species are known from western North America, Europe and the Russian Far East, indicating the present-day distribution is at least in part relictual (i.e., the genus was once far more widespread).

Photography resource link: I’ve previously featured the work of Mike Mander as a resource link, but I’m going to suggest revisiting his site if you haven’t done so lately (or ever!). Mike’s posted a number of photographs from a recent visit to UBC Botanical Garden in his galleries, along with images from other excursions. Well worth the time!

Liquidambar styraciflua

10 responses to “Liquidambar styraciflua”

  1. Marcia Sherry

    AKA – the ‘monkey ball’, throwing at an unsuspecting target is a favorite kid past time.

  2. J from Philly

    I personally love the Sweetgum – esp. for it’s fall colors! Unfortunately, the engineers ’round here don’t like them, because they’re concerned about the fruit/seeds jamming up the pipes.

  3. Clint McInnes

    Although the sweetgum is an excellent shade tree (an important attribute in South Carolina) I have never wanted them close to the house. Each tree makes a zillion skillion kawhillion of those indestructible little balls, which makes raking up after them quite a chore. Also, if you have one in your yard, heaven help you if decide to go outside barefoot.

  4. James

    Daniel, thanks for featuring one of my photos, and all my various ‘spare time’ activities and sites. You have prompted me to do my first blog post in way too long.
    It may be worth adding that this is an image in the new “People’s Arboretum” Flickr group, which was set up by Kew as part of the website to accompany the launch of the amazing new treetop walkway – see
    [Declaration of interest – I manage the website at Kew]

  5. nancy

    For some unknown reason, all of the kids around here refer to these sweetgum balls as “jubba-jubba”.
    This is a fast-growing shade tree with a very attractive conical shape. But the jubbas are lethal on the feet!
    Regards – Nancy

  6. Margaret-Rae Davis

    This photograph looks like a puzzle to me. I really appriecate the write-up and I am learning so much.
    Thank you,

  7. elizabeth a airhart

    i like this picture tis clear
    clean and sharp- craft artists
    would see many ways to put this
    to use-
    the kew up above the trees is a good web site
    spent time on a gibbs site you all live
    a beautiful part of the world
    thank you for showing this to the rest of us

  8. cecily flavell

    Hello, I LOVED finding out more about the Liquidamber.. We have a line of these beautiful shade trees in front of our office..The Fruit is a constant challange to sweep up from pavement as they roll so easily… however… they make WONDERFUL Xmas decorations in wreaths – strung or hung round the tree… also good in flower arrangements – kids games – so many fun ideas. I wash them in soapy water with a bit of bleach.. dry them in the oven on low heat than spray paint them..keep them in plastic bags… they are very tough and can be used round goods that need to be packed.. uncrushable….. plus they are quite beautiful.. have a good look with high power glass… Thank you for this info.. I LOVE your site and have learned so much.. Cheers, Cecily

  9. Barbara

    This is the seed pod of the ‘monkey-ball’ tree from my youth. I grew up in Delaware and loved collecting the leaves in autumn beacuse of the beautiful colours. We spent summers running around barefoot and always gave these trees wide berth.

  10. Myma

    We called them itchy balls and would beam each other with them. I think I got my 5th grade “leaf” report wrong because I always thought it was a maple too.

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