A popular tree for autumn color is the Sweetgum, which is in the genus Liquidambar. This genus consists of four species, all of which are large, deciduous trees with palmately lobed leaves. The one North American species is Liquidambar styraciflua which is colorful, easy to grow, and commonly available. There is a notable drawback however, and that is the "gumballs" which is a woody capsule containing numerous seeds and covered in prickly, woody armatures. They become dangerous projectiles when ejected from lawnmowers and are unforgettable when stepped on barefoot.

One way to avoid this landscape nuisance however could be planting a different sweetgum, such as the Formosa sweetgum, or Liquidambar formosana, whose fruit is softer than Liquidambar styraciflua and less conspicuous. Formosa sweetgum has a wide, pyramidal shape when young that matures to a  more irregular form, and eventually reaches 60 feet tall with a 45 foot spread. As large as this is, it is smaller than the American species and more adaptable to the urban garden. It has large, three-lobed leaves, purplish-red when young, which become dark green by summer. But it’s in autumn when this tree really justifies itself and the foliage turns beautiful shades of yellow and red. The Formosa sweetgum makes a nice specimen or shade tree for large properties. It is, however, less cold hardy than its American cousin thriving only in the southern half of the US, as well as Australia and New Zealand.


Formosa sweetgum

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