Sweetgums are large, sprawling shade trees with striking autumnal color and the species found most often in landscape situations is the North American sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua. Unfortunately there are few modern gardens that can comfortably accommodate it as it often exceeds 75 feet with a spread of 50 feet. Fortunately, there are some Asian species such as the Formosa sweetgum, or Liquidambar formosana, which are smaller. But the Formosa sweetgum lacks the cold hardiness of the North American sweetgum. Recently, however, a new species from Asia has caused quite a stir and is only now showing up at the better nurseries. This is the Acalycina sweetgum, sometimes known as Chang’s sweetgum, or Liquidambar acalycina, which is more cold hardy than the Formosa but, at only 40 feet or so, makes a better fit than the American sweetgum.

Acalycina has three-lobed leaves which, most interestingly, are as beautiful in spring as they are in autumn, perhaps even more so. They emerge deep purple burgundy and gradually shade to bronze and by summer achieve a deep velvety green. Then in autumn the show starts again when the foliage turns yellow-orange to deep-purple.

Acalycina sweetgum is pyramidal in youth and rounded in maturity making a superb, medium-sized shade tree not likely to overwhelm its setting. It is also exceptionally undemanding since it is not troubled by pests or diseases. It is adaptable to soil types, all except chalky, and is reasonably drought tolerant once established. It is vigorous and fast- growing and well-suited to gardens as well as park and street plantings. It does well in Lower Ontario and throughout most of the US. It is fully hardy throughout the UK and suitable for temperate Australia and New Zealand. Of course, Acalycina sweetgum will not be found in the big, discount nurseries but more likely in the connoisseur tree nurseries.

There are also some attractive Sweetgum cultivars such as Worplesdon and Rotundiloba.

Acalycina sweetgum


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