differences betwen sweetgun and maple?

chueh(7B)April 23, 2008

I thought the sweetgums in my backyard as maple. However, they were identified as sweetgums. Are they the same family? What are the differences between maple trees and sweetgums? Thanks

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Well, the obvious telltale sign is the seed containers.

Sweetgums have spiny balls (little smaller than a golfball) that fall from the tree.

Maples have samoras, flat wingshaped seeds that many people call "helicopter" seeds, cause of the way they drop thru the air.

Also leaves and bark are different.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 12:02AM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

Maples come from a huge family of trees. Latin Name Acer then something or other. 100's, probably thousands of them all shapes and sizes it seems.

The american sweetgum we generally see is "Liquidambar Styraciflua" to scientists. Think I read someplace its almost the only tree in that family.

Except for the difference in their seeds that noki pointed out they do appear to have some similarities thanks to a similar leaf shape and excellent fall color.

lol, the website I put up a link to describes the sweetgum seed balls as "looking like a mace weapon". Really they have tons of good info there about most trees commonly found in the eastern US

Here is a link that might be useful: hort.uconn.edu

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 2:08AM
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The conspicuous one not mentioned yet, is that maples have their leaves in opposite pairs, whereas sweetgums have leaves alternately ('zig-zag') along the stems.

They are classified in separate families; maples are currently placed in the family Sapindaceae (formerly in their own family Aceraceae), while sweetgums are currently placed in the family Altingiaceae (formerly in the family Hamamelidaceae).

"The american sweetgum we generally see is "Liquidambar Styraciflua" to scientists. Think I read someplace its almost the only tree in that family"
Actually Liquidambar styraciflua - species names are always in lower case ;-)
There are three other species in the genus Liquidambar in Asia, and a few other genera in its family.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 4:04AM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

I've found that it's much easier to learn to ID various trees by seeing them in the "flesh" than just by looking at field guides. I'd suggest you take a good field guide with you - in your case, Tree of Georgia and Adjacent States by Brown and Kirkman would probably be the best - and go on a hike through some nearby woods. I've been looking at trees so long, I can just glance at them out the corner of my eye and tell what they are - except nyssas, that is! :)

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 9:12AM
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The original title question . . . "differences betwen sweetgun and maple?"

How does one tell them apart? Is a sweet gun not an oxymoron?


    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 10:12AM
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Do maples generally grow faster?

I have several baby sweetgums. They have corky bark and grow slowly and are fantastically beautiful in Autumn. Have one Morraine with smooth trunk and a little faster growing, not as crinkled and gnarly and interesting as the others, but very pretty summer leaves.

Have a baby variegated (green and white leaves) doing really well. Sweetgums love water. Mine can take endless standing water. Planted October Glory red maples in creeklets, doing very well. Those maples love water also.

Some ppl are upset with the spikey sweetgum balls but the trees get very big and majestic and imho are well worth the spikers which can be picked up (gloves) or raked.

I've read that both maples and sweetgums can develop extensive roots through decades.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 12:42PM
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"Do maples generally grow faster?"

No; with over 100 species of maple, there's a huge range in growth rates from very slow to quite fast.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 4:05PM
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Thank you for all your input. What about their roots? Generally maples are spreading their roots shallowly. Do sweetgum do the same?

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 9:18PM
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It may be a function of soil type/compaction, etc., but every sweetgum I've ever encountered in a residential yard situation threw up huge, obtrusive roots projecting well above the soil surface.
I've seen literally millions of the invasive natives growing wild in the woodlands of my native AL, and didn't necessarily notice the surface roots so much there, though now that I think about it, even out in the woods, those above soil-surface roots were pretty prominent.

Here is a link that might be useful: Invasive sweetgum

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 7:38AM
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Fledgeling_(4b SD)

lucky_p just because its common, opportunist and you just don't like it doesn't mean its a bad tree for the rest of us.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 11:08AM
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i don't read where lucky said directly that it is a bad tree for you -
just a bad one for him. ;-)
his reply addressed the question about surface roots (in an area with similar growing conditions to the one of the poster) and the comments accurately describe the sweetgums at the wooded perimeter of my yard; ripples of large, exposed roots extending out a long way from the trunk. i don't think many would find it desirable to have those in a lawn or garden setting.
chueh is asking for information about existing trees and not wanting to know this to help with a decision for selecting a tree to plant but the link in the above post would provide some study data to consider for doing that.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 12:44PM
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A very interesting article, lucky_p and one certainly worth reading.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 2:31PM
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Cupaniopsis fovealata is an australian rainforest tree in Sapindaceae.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 9:12PM
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leahcate(So. Ca.)

Ta Da...here I come, cape flying, in defense of my wonderful, adored liquidambars. Here in So. Ca. we don't have the autumn display many of you get. My front yard is a blazing glory thanks to the sweetgums in mine and my neighbors yards...5 altogether. With theirs turning earlier than ours we enjoy amazing colors in golds and reds from Oct. through Dec. Cannot imagine that their beauty, in an autumn-foliage- starved land such as ours would not out weigh the nuisance of their prickle balls. As for surface roots: Ours are almost 30 years old and, yes, there are some, but not awful, and the grass grows there. I would not plan on planting flowers or shrubs under them, however. Invasiveness is a non-issue here.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 10:09PM
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Folks who've known me for the 10-12 years I've been a regular here will notice that I've softened my stance on sweetgums. Really.
I don't denigrate those who would plant them in their own yard, but I will answer questions like the one posed about the prominent above-ground roots without sugar-coating the issue - and I didn't even address the issue of the abominable prickly seed capsules.
I will agree that in some areas they do have marvelous fall color - but I rarely see it on the ones that grow here. I've been tempted, at times, to plant 'Rotundiloba', just 'cause I think the leaves look kind of 'neat'.
Lest you think I've gone too soft, though, rest assured that I'm working diligently to eliminate each and every one of the accursed things from my property here.
Some say that familiarity breeds contempt, and I'm very familiar with L.styraciflua.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2008 at 1:27AM
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Liquidambars are well known for developing a lot of surface roots. They are frequently (and inappropriately) planted here in more suburban areas as street trees and in addition to getting their crowns whacked back to avoid power lines, the roots cause frequent upheavals of the sidewalks. In fact, there are areas close to my neighborhood where the sidewalks are currently closed as the city goes through its endless process of removing broken concrete, cutting roots, leveling and re-laying concrete. You'd think they'd learn after doing this countless times :-)

My sister's small townhouse garden in SoCal was populated by 13(!) liquidambars when she moved in. She's down to 6 now but absolutely nothing else can be planted in this tiny garden due to the extensive and very visible root system of these trees, not even annuals. Fortunately, other plants were included at the initial planting and they are hanging on but just.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2008 at 9:05AM
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