It's No Shrinking violet.
Common Name: American sweetgum
Botanical Name: Liquidambar styraciflua
Form: upright with pyramidal canopy that matures to an oval rounded
Plant Type: deciduous tree
Mature Size: 60’ to 80’ x 40’ to 60’
Growth: medium to fast
Origin: USA, Mexico, Central America
Hardiness Zone: 5 to 9
Foliage: deep green, 4-7” wide, glossy, toothed margins, 5-7 pointed, star-shaped lobes, fragrant when crushed, long petioles, brilliant fall colours in hues of orange, purple, red and yellow
Flowers: non-showy, monoecious, chartreuse held in clusters, April, May
Fruit: gum balls, hard, round with bristles, 1-5 inches wide, green mature to brown
Stems: immature stems bear corky ridges
Exposure: 6 hours of direct sun a day minimum for good fall colour
Soil: prefers acidic, well-drained
Uses: lumber, fall colour, shade tree, specimen tree, the gum was used as chewing gum, perfume, herbal remedies, incense, perfume
Propagation: seeds, softwood cuttings
Pruning: in winter when dormant, pruning not needed, don’t prune to reduce size, remove dead, diseased etc.
Problems: no serious pests, chlorotic in alkaline soils, needs space to grow, gum balls are hazardous to walk on and messy
Sweet gum trees are known for their good bones and brilliant fall colours. Their broad leafy 60’ wide canopies make them suitable shade trees for gardens that have lots of space. They are bold specimens with deeply furrowed grey bark, hence their nickname ‘aligatorwood’. Even the younger stems often have corky growths growing along their length. This gives the trees a unique, albeit, a haunted appearance, but only after the leaves have fallen.
Note that the amount of corky growths on American sweetgum branches differs from tree to tree. Some have none and some may have it on new stems, but it's not uncommon for an entire tree to be covered.
Sweetgum trees are often mistaken for maples because they both have star shaped foliage and both turn brilliant colours in the fall. As an added bonus, their leaves have a lovely fragrance when handled.
Although sweet gums have many desirable qualities, their fruit make it a messy tree. Green spikey 1-to-5-inch husks hold winged seeds inside. Upon maturity in late fall, the husks turn brown and fall from the tree, and unfortunately, they are uncomfortable to walk on.
There are numerous cultivars available: