Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Moraine’
Description & Overview
Considered the most cold hardy of the sweetgum cultivars, Moraine Sweetgum touts beautiful fall color and a tolerance to wet soils. A Siebenthaler Nursery introduction, it provides an upright oval canopy and reliable, brilliant red fall color. A great residential shade tree addition to a yard as it tolerates a variety of soils or sited in a park or campus. Corky projections of deeply rigid bark make for excellent winter interest and persistent fruit attracts wildlife to Moraine Sweetgum.
Not yet proven to be Urban Approved, Moraine Sweetgum is best used in a residential setting as a shade tree, in large parking lot islands, along buffer strips or medians, or as a specimen planting. Due to aggressive and shallow roots, it may lift sidewalks or pavement if not given adequate space. Allow 8-10 ft spacing to the planting site from these areas. In native wet soils root systems will be more prevalent at surface level so be sure to take this into consideration when siting. An excellent choice for fall color and winter interest where a narrower tree is needed. Fruit litter may be a nuisance if planted near patios or sidewalks, mostly hard surfaces.
Inconspicuous flowers give way to persistent gumball like, spikey and sometimes messy fruits which draw a variety of wildlife including birds, squirrels and other small mammals.
Little pruning is needed to develop strong branch structure. Use caution if siting Moraine Sweetgum as a street tree as it can have very aggressive root systems which have been known to uplift sidewalks, especially in wet soils. Crown dieback may occur if nearby construction affects root systems as trees are very sensitive to root system or drought injury.
Tolerant to black walnut toxicity. Although long-term health is not generally affected by pests there are some issues that can arise.
Although the spikey seed pods have given a rough reputation to Sweetgum, there are a few things to redeem its beneficial use in landscapes. Genus name Liquidambar references the fragrant sap, which is the only edible part of the plant. It can be used as a medicinal chewing gum. Despite the common name sweet gum, it is not sweet and rather mildly bitter. This common name helps to differentiate from a different ‘gum tree’ species Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica). The gum is said to have antiseptic qualities, per the Encyclopedia of Edible Plant of North America by Dr. François Couplan. Sweet gum tea was used as an herbal treatment for the flu and the Cherokee made a tea out of the bark. Additionally, the sap is used to add flavor to smoking tobacco and is found as an ingredient in the “compound tincture of benzoin” which is used in making pharmaceutical drugs.
In a screening, plant with Early Glow™ Buckeye, Pagoda Dogwood, Seven Son Flower, and Kentucky Coffetree. Combine with moist-soil loving perennials such as Giant Solomon’s Seal, Goatsbeard varities, Cardinal Flower and Cinnamon Fern.