Few people who have seen an American sweetgum in autumn will forget its amazing colors and attractive form, yet there are two distractions that make a sweetgum problematic in the home landscape. First, and most importantly, is the seed, or gumballs, which are spiky little one and a half inch balls that are produced in the thousands. They're unpleasant to tread upon, cause a litter problem for paved areas and are hazardous projectiles when mowing grass. Add to that, the great size and spread of the tree, up to 80 feet tall and 60 feet wide, and few modern gardens can accommodate one. There is, fortunately, one cultivar that tames this rough beauty of the North American forests and renders it civilized enough for the home landscape. This is the 'Rotundiloba' sweetgum, or Liquidambar styraciflua 'Rotundiloba'. The name is derived from the unique, rounded lobes, which are so unlike the maple-type leaves of other sweetgums. This superb tree is narrowly pyramidal and deciduous. It has a much narrower spread than the species and typically grows 60 feet tall with a spread of 20 feet or so. This size is more in keeping with contemporary gardens but even more importantly, it is seedless, therefore no gumballs are produced. And like the regular sweetgum, it has deep green leaves all summer that turn striking shades of yellow, orange and burgundy in fall. And like the species it is fast-growing, with no serious insect or disease problems. In short, it has all of the assets of a normal sweetgum but none of the minuses. It is not fussy about soil and is tolerant of wet conditions.
In North America, it will grow across Lower Ontario and throughout the east of the US. It is fully hardy across the UK, and suited to temperate Australia and New Zealand. As always, a tree this rare is not likely to be found in the large discount nurseries, but more likely found in the select plant nurseries or from mail-order tree nurseries.

There is also the Acalycina sweetgum and the Formosa sweetgum, both excellent choices.

Rotundiloba sweetgum


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