Sweet Gum Seedlings
The sweetgum tree, also sometimes known as the redgum or star-leaved gum tree. In the wild, the tree can grow as high as 150 feet. It’s a deciduous tree with dark green palmate leaves that have pointed lobes. The lobes of a leaf usually number between five and seven. Sweetgum zones includes most of the continental U.S. except for portions of the northern Midwest and the most northern parts of New England. It is native to the warm climate of the Southeast and also grows in Mexico and Central America.
The sweetgum can grow in various types of soil and ranging from sandy to moist. In premium conditions, it will likely grow somewhere between one to two feet each year.
The fruits of the tree, burred ball-shaped capsules that carry its seeds, reach maturity in fall and stay on the tree during winter. The tree flowers in April or May. It has a distinctive twig growth that has led people to describe the twigs as “wings.”
The sweetgum is popular for a variety of reasons. Its beautiful colored leaves in the fall, typically yellow, red or even purple, can be quite bright and add much loveliness to the landscape. It’s also a good shade tree, and its hardwood is one of the most popular types of hardwood lumber in the U.S., next to oak. The fine-grained wood has interesting colored streaks in it, which can make it a good lumber for furniture making and flooring, especially since it polishes well. Its timber is sometimes called satin walnut. The wood can also be pulped to make paper or used in basket making.
The name sweetgum probably comes from the resin inside the gray bark which American pioneers used to scrape off and chew. Sometimes parts of the tree were used to make soaps and adhesives, though today it is mostly valued for its wood and its beauty.
The tree is considered to have a “pyramidal” shape that gets rounded as the tree grows older, resulting in a sort of oval. Sweetgum trees attract a number of different birds, including finches, sparrows, bobwhites, mourning doves and turkeys. Squirrels and chipmunks also like to eat its fruits and seeds, so it’s a good tree for attracting wildlife to your yard.
One interesting fact about the sweetgum is that its genus, which has six species in it, is primarily native to Asia. The sweetgum is the only one of the six species that is native to North America. The first time the tree is mentioned in recorded North American history is in a written description of a ceremony involving Cortez and Montezuma.