American Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, and Irish Fall Color?

Sweetgum

© Aislinn Adams 1998

My first American Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua.

The first time I saw an American sweetgum was in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, Ireland. It was autumn and I was a first year horticulture student attending college there. Ireland is not known for its fall color but that sweetgum, growing on a small island in the “pond”, stopped me in my tracks; its glowing orange-red-purple leaves took my breath away. Such a marvelous display would have done New England proud.

I know there’s a whole series of chemical reactions, triggered by temperature and day length, which make leaves turn the colors they do but seeing that sweetgum made me wonder – if Ireland had more N. American native trees like sweetgum would we have better fall color too?

An American native plant.

Sweetgum is native to the eastern U.S.A. but can be found growing in many parts of the country, including on my own street here in Salem, Oregon. It is not popular with many of my neighbors because its shallow roots push up through the concrete pavement causing large cracks. Even though several neighbors have replaced the sweetgums with smaller, more sidewalk-friendly species, there are still enough on the street to give a striking autumnal show- one I look forward to every year.

Ireland can have good Fall color too.

The botanical watercolor illustration above is part of a series I created for Birr Castle Visitor’s Center in Ireland (and part of my botanical watercolor greeting card series.) I worked on these botanical illustrations while staying in Washington D.C. and was happy to use sweetgum plant specimens from my D.C. neighborhood. I have visited Birr Castle demesne many times (I grew up about 20 miles from Birr) but I don’t recall seeing sweetgum growing there. I have no idea how good the Birr sweetgum looks in an Irish Fall but decided to paint it with good fall color anyway as I like to believe that it too can give as good a show as any of the trees here in the U.S.A. After all, the National Botanic Gardens’ sweetgum looked great.

Aislinn Adams

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