Sweetgum

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Sweetgum

Sweetgum (Liquidambar straciflua), also called Redgum, Sapgum, Starleaf-gum, or Bilsted, is a common bottomland species of the south where it grows biggest and is most abundant in the lower Mississippi Valley. This moderate to rapid growing tree often pioneers in old fields and logged areas in the uplands and Coastal plain and may develop in a nearly pure stand. Sweetgum is one of the most important commercial hardwoods in the southeast and the handsome hardwood is out to a great many uses, one of which is veneer for plywood. Birds, Squirrels, and chipmunks eat the small seeds. It is sometimes used as a shade tree.

Fruiting heads often remain on trees over winter. Fair seed crops occur every year and bumper crops about every 3 years. The staminate and pistillate of Sweetgum is monoeciouse. The small, greenish flowers bloom from march to early May, depending on latitude and weather conditions. Both the staminate and pistillate flowers occur in heads. The staminate inflorescences are racemes; the solitary pistillate flowers are globose heads that that form the multiple head, 2.5 to 3.8cm in diameter, of small, two-celled capsule. The lustrous green color of the fruiting heads fades to yellow as maturity is reached in September to November. The beaklike capsules open at this time, and the small winged seeds, one or two per capsule, are then readily disseminated by wind. However, the seed balls can be safely collected for seed examination several weeks before ball discoloration occurs without harming the seed. Empty flowers are quit sensitive to cold and often damaged by frost.

Few data are available on the early development of natural stands of sweetgum throughout its broad range. The limited, earlier data indicate that that workers were not aware of the tendency of sweetgum to regenerate from root sprouts that originated from suppressed root buds. Stand disturbances thought to produce ideal seedbed conditions were actually optimum conditions for suppressed bud release and subsequent root sprout development. A South Carolina Coastal plain area thought to have successfully regenerated with sweetgum seed trees was later found to be regenerated primarily from root sprouts.

The importance of root sprout formation with sweetgum regeneration is evident from observations made in natural stands of mixed pines and hardwoods in Georgia Piedmont that have been logged for sawtimber. In most of the stands examined, advance reproduction of sweetgum was clearly evident, accounting for 10 to 60 percent of all hardwood production.

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