Plant of the month: sweet gum

Liquidambars put on a fabulous display in autumn with fiery oranges, reds and yellows lighting up the garden

Liquidambar styraciflua 'Worplesdon'Liquidambar styraciflua, originating from the Eastern USA and Mexico, is often found in swampy regions where it can grow up to 45m (150ft) tall.

The common name of ‘sweet gum’ arises from the fragrant resin which can be used in perfumes, adhesives and incense. Crushed leaves also produce a pleasant aroma.

‘Worplesdon’ (named after a village in Surrey) is a particularly beautiful cultivar of Liquidambar styraciflua which is narrower than the natural form and can achieve over 12m (40ft) in height and 8m (26ft) spread in 10-20 years.

In early autumn, the glossy summer leaves start to turn a mix of purple, red, orange and yellow. Colour can be a bit variable, but the best results come from trees grown in moist, acid soil in full sun.
 

Planting partners

This tree makes a fabulous specimen tree producing a pyramid of intense colour in autumn. It is also effective in a sunny spot in a woodland setting. Underplanting with spring bulbs gives another season of interest and Ajuga, Epimedium, Trillium grandiflorum AGM and Pulmonaria make good ground cover.

At Rosemoor, we have three large specimens planted to lead you down to the lake. Two are in the grass, but the third is in the border on the shore of the lake. At the base of this specimen we grow Rodgersia podophylla, which turns a reddish-bronze in autumn, complementing the foliage of the sweet gum.

Astilbe 'Venus', irises, Persicaria and ferns form a carpet of contrasting foliage that turn to tints of autumnal yellow. The leaves of neighbouring Toona sinensis turn a butter yellow, contrasting with the purple and red of ‘Worplesdon’. 

The autumn colours of Liquidambar styraciflua 'Worplesdon' AGM are key to making the lake area at Rosemoor such a wonderful place to rest, contemplate the changing seasons and take in the ambience of this watery environment. It is also featured in our new autumn trail which highlights ornamental trees for small spaces.
 

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