Sweetgum Liquidambar Trees: What to Know Before Planting

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The Liquidambar styraciflua, or Sweetgum tree, is a beautiful tree that comes with a few notable downsides. Keep reading to determine whether one of these trees is right for your yard.

The liquidambar tree can grow up to 70-120 ft. tall. Photo Credit: Yale University

You can recognize this tree by its five-pointed, star-shaped leaves and green or brown fruit balls. The sweetgum tree produces a full canopy in the summer which provides plenty of shade, and deep orange, red, and yellow leaves in the fall. It’s height and lush canopy make it a great privacy barrier as well.

Sweetgum trees grow relatively quickly and its fruit attract a wide range of wildlife, from goldfinches, sparrows, and mourning doves, to chipmunks and squirrels.

Fun Fact: The sweetgum got its name from the Native American practice of chewing the resin that seeps out from under its bark, as one would chew gum.

Liquidambar tree leaves

Before you run out and plant a sweet gum in your yard, there are a few downsides to this tree you should first consider.

The Liquidambar Is Brittle

Sweetgum tree without leaves

Although its wood is often used to make furniture, the liquidambar tree is known to be quite brittle. On years when large crops of fruit balls appear on its branches, the weight often becomes too much for the tree to bare. Large branches have been known to come crashing down on people’s houses and property. These branch breaks are further exacerbated by a little rain or high winds.

One of my neighbors had six of these giant trees along the side of his house. In one wind storm a big limb damaged the roof on his neighbor’s house. A year later, another wind storm dropped a large limb on the corner of his roof – requiring an expensive repair.

An Agressive Root System

The sweetgum is a large tree with a very aggressive root system. Plant one too close to your house and it could damage your foundation. This tree’s roots grow fast and large, and sometimes if you cut it down, these roots continue to grow.  Killing them isn’t easy, and you can find numerous stories online about damage done by these giant roots.

Those Pesky Spiked Fruit

Spiked fruit that's fallen off of the sweetgum tree
Spiked fruit balls of the sweetgum tree.

Perhaps the most notable nuisance of the sweetgum are the pesky spiked fruit balls that fall to the ground as they dry out and turn brown. I live in Sacramento near a greenbelt park, which becomes nearly impossible to bike or run on during certain times of the year because of these spiked balls. They are very difficult to mow over with a lawnmower or rake up, and one must take caution not to twist an ankle when walking through a sidewalk filled with them.

Given each of these factors, I would not recommend planting a sweetgum tree anywhere near a house, heavy foot traffic or for the sole purpose of shade. That said, I hope this article will help you decide for yourself whether a sweetgum tree is the right choice for your yard.

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Sweetgum liquidambar trees, what to know before planting

7 thoughts on “Sweetgum Liquidambar Trees: What to Know Before Planting”

  1. I agree with Daniel, thanks for the laugh. based on this article’s advice, every tree in every yard that ever drops a limb, makes a mess, or doesn’t provide enough shade should be chopped down.

  2. Thanks for the laugh, I’ve had these trees at two homes now and they’ve never caused any problems. As for the spikey balls, granted they’re not pleasant if you walk on them with bare feet but the same can said for all manner of detritus off various plants. I’ve certainly never turned my ankle or even come close.

  3. I would like to get a reprint of “Never plant this tree in your yard”. Will you pleasse tell me how I can do that? Thank you.

  4. I so agree. Two neighbors have a liquidambar tree and those spikey balls end up on our front and back yards. Kind of annoying to walk on my own property and constantly look down to prevent from steps on those balls and subsequently loosing balance. We would never plant a liquidambar or sweet gum tree in our yard.

    • the palo verde out here in mesa az is a real bad idea to have in your yard too. many reasons of which are messy, unpleasant to touch, needs frequent trimming and is very large and has no problem reseeding itself—everywhere. pretty to see in spring with major amounts of yellow flowers which blow off in a week or two and have neighbors wondering whether or not you painted their driveways yellow sometime in the middle of the night.


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