The Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is a deciduous tree that grows from Connecticut to Florida as well in Central America. The common name comes from the brown sap they produce. This sap has had various uses throughout history. For example it was boiled down into an ointment for the skin, used as an incense, and combined with tobacco to produce a sleeping aid. These trees have ancient beginnings. There are 20 extinct species of Sweet Gum and the oldest is over 55 million years old! This species of tree was important dating back tothe Aztec Empire. Even now it has a variety of uses from furniture, veneer, lumber and pallets. It makes a great shade tree for the garden since it grows fairly fast and has a straight form. Because it grows fast it is used in reforestation, land reclamation and agro forestry. They typically range in height from 60′ – 80′ tall but it is not unusual for them to exceed 100′. Their beautiful leaves go from a deep green in summer to a burgundy in the autumn. The spiny fruit they produce resembles a medieval weapon the mace. These go from a green fleshy like object to a hard dried prickly ball that is hard enough to puncture a tire. We spend most of the winter and spring raking these things into piles to keep our dogs and us from hurting our feet. It is the one quality that I don’t like about this tree. According to my research they prefer a moist soil and can be found near water in the wild. However mine is planted in the exact opposite conditions and does well. It is at least 30 years old and must be about 60-70′ tall. Since I started reading the history of this native specimen I find myself feeling more fond of its’ good attributes and less bothered by the sticky balls. After all it was the only tree standing tall and proud after Hurricane Isabel struck in 2004. Any tree that can survive that much wind and rain and sustain no major damage is a great addition to the garden.