Sun exposure:
Full shade, partial shade
East facing, south facing, west facing
Position in border:

Liquidambar styraciflua (sweet gum) originates from eastern USA and was originally introduced to the UK in the seventeenth century. It's one of the best trees for autumn leaf colour. As temperatures fall in autumn, its large, lobed, maple-like leaves turn from green to glowing shades of orange, red, yellow, or purple.

The species is a tall-growing deciduous tree that needs plenty of space to grow – ultimate height ranges from 10m to more than 20m, with trees taking around 15-20 years to mature. However, many different cultivars have been bred since it was introduced, offering a range of features such as varying autumn leaf colours, variegated foliage, a narrower or columnar habit, and a smaller overall size. In recent years, sterile cultivars have been bred. These are useful where sweet gum is grown as a specimen tree in a lawn, as the seed balls are hard and prickly, and can cause discomfort underfoot.

The narrowest variety is ‘Slender Silhouette’, which forms a tight column 1-1.5m wide. ‘Lane Roberts’, ‘Slender Silhouette’ and ‘Worplesdon’ have been awarded the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Award of Garden Merit.

Liquidambar styraciflua is easy to grow in good, fertile soil that is moisture-retentive and well drained. It does not thrive in chalky soils.

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Advice on buying Liquidambar styraciflua

  • Make sure you have enough space to grow Liquidambar styraciflua – some cultivars can ultimately reach 20m x 5m
  • You're likely to find Quercus robur at a specialist tree nursery or online. Always buy trees from a reputable supplier that sells British-grown or certified disease-free stock, to guarantee against pests and diseases
  • Look out for bare root plants that can be bought and planted in the dormant season – these are usually cheaper

Where to buy Liquidambar styraciflua

Plant calendar


Liquidambar and wildlife

Liquidambar has no particular known value to wildlife in the UK.

Is Liquidambar poisonous?

Liquidambar has no toxic effects reported.

No reported toxicity to:
Is not known to attract Birds
Is not known to attract Cats
Is not known to attract Dogs
Is not known to attract Horses
Is not known to attract Livestock
Is not known to attract People