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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Liquidambar formosana - Chinese or Formosan Sweetgum

The Chinese or Formosan Sweetgum is an uncommon tree in SC. Trees generally have an irregular rounded to oval habit when mature and in cultivation hit about 40 feet tall. Noticed this tree one day, not sure how, but I think there was an open garden tour next door.

Leaves are alternate, simple, 3-5" long and wide, strongly 3 but sometimes 5 lobes, the middle lobe larger and triangular in shape. Margins with few large teeth. Mature leaves are glossy green, new leaves have a nice reddish cast as seen in the second picture.

Flowers are small, inconspicuous with males and females separate on the same tree (monoecious). Females look a lot like L. styraciflua flowers.

Fruit is a roundish spiny ball of individual fruits about 1" or larger in diameter. Softer than L. styraciflua fruit.

Bark is attractive, gray brown and furrowed.

Misidentification:  Sort of like a few cultivars of Japanese maples, but the leaves are alternate. Looks like a shallow lobed version of American sweet gum but the lobes are almost always 3 and the shape of the tree is very different.

Santa Cruz
303 Clinton St.

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