Liquidambar: Characteristics, Habitat, Uses, Cultivation, Care

Liquidambar is a genus of phanerogamic plants belonging to the Altingiaceae family . They are decorative deciduous trees widely used industrially for their wood and resin, as well as for ornamental purposes.

Native to the southern United States, Mexico, and Guatemala, it has been introduced to various temperate and subtropical zones around the world. It is commonly known as balsam, white balsam, copalme, copalillo, licidámbo, estoraque, ícob, liquidambar, liquidambar, quiramba, ocóm, ocozote, suchete or satin walnut.

Liquidambar styraciflua. Source: Cbaile19 [CC0]

Its leaves have 5 to 7 lobes arranged alternately across the branches, deep green in color that varies with the seasons. Green tones during spring and summer change to yellow, orange, red and purple tones during fall and winter.

Most are timber species, with a wide variety of uses and applications such as furniture, partitions for floors, sheets and plywood.

The name sweetgum means liquid amber and is related to the resin that emanates from the bark in most species. This resin, known as storax or storax, is used for cosmetic, food and medicinal purposes.

Article index

  • one

    General characteristics

    • 1.1


    • 1.2


  • two

    Habitat and distribution

  • 3


    • 3.1


    • 3.2


    • 3.3


  • 4


  • 5


    • 5.1

      Plagues and diseases

  • 6

    Main species

    • 6.1

      Liquidambar acalycina HT Chang.

    • 6.2

      Liquidambar formosana Maxim.

    • 6.3

      Liquidambar orientalis L.

    • 6.4

      Liquidambar styraciflua

  • 7


General characteristics


Tall trees 25-40 m tall, deciduous, aromatic, resinous, glabrous or slightly pubescent, with a conical or pyramidal crown. The bark is gray-brownish tones, deeply furrowed, with longitudinal ridges and sometimes corky.

The leaves are palmate, 3-7 acuminate lobes, petiolate, spirally located across the branches, with toothed and glandular margins. Brightly colored during fall ranging from yellow, orange, purple, and red, and highly fragrant.

The inflorescences are terminal in racemes with numerous heads of flowers of greenish tones, without petals or sepals. The multicapsular fruitescences 2-4 cm in diameter, dark brown in color, have numerous seeds inside the fused capsules.

Sweetgum leaves. Source:


– Kingdom: Plantae.

– Division: Phanerogam Magnoliophyta.

– Class: Magnoliopsida.

– Order: Saxifragales.

– Family: Altingiaceae.

– Genus: Liquidambar L.

Habitat and distribution

The different species of the genus Liquidambar are native to southeastern North America and central Mesoamerica, from Mexico to Honduras and Nicaragua. Likewise, it is very widespread in Korea, China, Laos, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, even in Turkey and the Greek islands.

They are species that adapt to temperate and subtropical climates around the world, occupying elevational floors between 900-2,100 meters above sea level. They are located on slopes, slopes and mountainous plains forming forests associated with Quercus and Pinus species , or forming uniform stands.

It requires deep, well-drained clay soils, even though it tolerates slightly flooded and heavy soils. It thrives in environmental conditions of 20º-30º C of temperature and 1,000-1,500 mm of annual average precipitation.



From the bark of the trunk a sap or resin is extracted -sthorax, storach- that is used in the food or cosmetic industry. The resin of some species such as Liquidambar orientalis is used in perfumery, and the hardened gum of Liquidambar styraciflua has been used to make chewing gum.


Sweetgum wood is firm and fine-grained, used in the manufacture of furniture such as cabinets, drawers, boxes, veneers, doors, interior finishes and linings. In addition, the pulp is used to obtain sawdust and make paper, being used to make picture frames.

Sweetgum in autumn. Source: Luis Fernández García [CC BY-SA 2.5 es (]


Balms or ointments with medicinal properties are made from the amber-colored resin extracted from the bark of the tree. These topical creams are used to relieve skin conditions such as hemorrhoids, ringworm, acne, rashes, and scabies.

In addition, applied as ointments on wounds and inflammations, they have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory effects. Syrups made from the resins have expectorant and stimulating properties, relieving sore throats, asthma, colds and bronchitis.

The resin (storax) has emmenagogue effects, relieves cystitis and regulates vaginal discharge. It is also effective for the treatment of cancer. Storax is also used as an antiparasitic, astringent, and for the treatment of skin ulcers, itching and dry skin.


Sweetgum is a hardy species and is easily grown in temperate climates. Its multiplication is carried out through seeds during the fall, by cuttings during the summer or by layering during the spring.

Sowing is done in germination beds on sand or disinfected peat. The seeds are collected directly from the mature dehiscent fruits and a pre-germination treatment must be applied to overcome the natural dormancy.

To overcome lethargy, it is advisable to keep the seeds stratified for 1-3 months at an average temperature of 4ºC. During the germination process, constant watering must be maintained, without saturating the substrate, and kept in partial shade to avoid solarization.

When the seedlings have reached 3-4 cm in height, a peal or selection of the strongest and most vigorous plants is carried out. At 6-10 cm, it is transplanted into a polyethylene bag with a substrate of fertile soil and husk.

During the transplant, the root system must be taken care of, protecting the roots from air and solar radiation. In fact, it is advisable to transplant each seedling avoiding the least possible manipulation; in this process mycorrhiza is applied to each bag.

Agronomic practices during the nursery growth phase are supported by continuous irrigation, fertilization, weed, pest and disease control. Seedlings require 65% polyshade.

A residence time in the nursery prior to sowing in the field of 6-8 months is estimated. For practical purposes, transplantation is carried out when the seedlings reach 15-20 cm in height.

The cultural management of the sweetgum allows grafting of selected clones on robust and resistant rootstocks such as Liquidambar styraciflua. Another form of propagation is to layer vigorous branches during spring, which will be ready to transplant after two years.

Infrutescence of sweetgum. Source:


Sweetgum plants require moist soils, which is why they easily thrive in places with high water tables. They develop efficiently in fertile, clay-loam, acidic and calcareous soils, being very demanding in terms of humidity and organic matter.

Although it prefers moist, well-drained soils, it temporarily tolerates dry soils. In alkaline soils, the foliage tends to present iron chlorosis problems, so it is necessary to apply amendments to adjust the pH.

Sweetgum does not require maintenance pruning, as it can lose its natural shape. It is advisable to perform sanitation pruning to remove branches or dead wood in early fall.

Plagues and diseases

The most common sweetgum pests are those that feed on the leaves or attack the bark. Carp caterpillars ( Malacosoma sp .) And weaver worms ( Macalla thyrsisalis ) make special structures through the leaves and consume the tender tissues.

The stems are attacked by borers, such as the branch borer ( Copturus sp. ), Which pierce the stems and extract the sap. Although they are not fatal, they can weaken the plant by cutting off the flow of water and nutrients from the branches.

Among the diseases detected in sweetgum are basal rot caused by Phytophthora sp. or root rot caused by Phymatotrichum sp. These types of conditions can cause stem or root rot, stunt plant growth, and limit growth and development.

Main species

Liquidambar acalycina HT Chang.

The species Liquidambar acalycina, known as Chang’s sweet gum, is a flowering plant belonging to the Altingiaceae family. Native to southern China, it is an arboreal species 6-10 m high with trilobed deciduous leaves of reddish tones in autumn.

Liquidambar acalycina. Source: Plant Image Library [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]

This plant is widely cultivated as an ornamental in parks and gardens, on clay soils with full sun exposure or lightly shaded, being resistant to frost. The bark exudes a resin with a sweet smell, hence its characteristic name.

Liquidambar formosana Maxim.

Deciduous monoecious tree that reaches 30 m in height in its natural environment with a thick, fissured trunk and a tight, cylindrical crown. The leaves are simple, alternate and with a pubescent petiole, trilobed with toothed margins; flowers arranged in spikes or heads.

Liquidambar formosana. Source: harum.koh from Kobe city, Japan [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]

Native to China, Korea, Taiwan, Laos and Vietnam, it is a species that multiplies by seeds, being fast growing. It adapts to deep and fertile soils, with a slightly alkaline pH; and prefers sites with full sun exposure.

The wood is used to make canoes and a resin used in perfumery is obtained from it.

Liquidambar orientalis L.

It is an arboreal plant belonging to the Altingiaceae family, native to the eastern region of the eastern Mediterranean, in the plains of southwestern Turkey. This 20 m tall deciduous tree is branched and has a gray-purple bark, with 3-5 lobed leaves, serrated margins and a bright green color.

Liquidambar orientalis. Source: Zeynel Cebeci [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

From the bark of this species a resin known as storax, widely used in the cosmetic industry, is extracted. Storach is an essential oil that contains phenylpropyl, benzyl, ethyl and cinnamic alcohol, styrene and vanillin.

These elements provide you with a lingering fragrance and the ability to slow the evaporation of other compounds. In fact, it acts as a fixative to keep the original fragrances longer.

Liquidambar styraciflua

Called sweetgum, American sweetgum, ocozol or estoraque, it is a deciduous tree species 20-35 m tall belonging to the Altingiaceae family. It is characterized by its bright yellow, red and purple leaves during the cold and bright days of autumn.

Native to the temperate regions of eastern North America, it is found in New York, Missouri, Florida, Texas and California. It is found in the wild in Mexico, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. It has also been introduced in various temperate zones around the world.

Liquidambar styraciflua. Source: Forest & Kim Starr [CC BY 3.0 (]

Sweetgum is known for the medicinal properties of its roots, leaves, and bark. Thus, the resin exuded from the bark is used therapeutically to control diarrhea, in addition to having a febrifugal and sedative effect, and is used industrially.

The wood, which is compact, fine-grained, and with reddish heartwood with dark veins, is of poor quality for joinery. It is often used in interior cladding, rustic furniture and moldings. The pulp is used to make paper, and the wood can also be used as fuel for combustion.


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  2. Liquidambar – Estoraque (2015) Adaptation, uses, wood, nursery, performance and forestry of 95 species. Recovered in:
  3. Liquidambar genus Liquidambar (2018) Red iNaturalist. Recovered at:
  4. Orwa C., Mutua A., Kindt R., Jamnadass R., & Simons A. (2009) Agroforestree Database: a tree reference and selection guide. Version 4.0
  5. Sustainable production of sweetgum balsam (2014) Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research. Diversification Program. Technical sheet. 8 pp.
  6. Wikipedia contributors. (2019, January 18). Liquidambar. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Recovered at:

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