Liquidambar: Friend or Foe?

One of the more prominent -- and controversial -- street trees in my fair city is Liquidambar styraciflua (American Sweetgum, Redgum). The city has planted them in side strips, and many home owners have taken up the city on the offer and planted a free tree in their front gardens. As did Mr. Previous Owner.

Before I embarked on the great front garden remodel last fall, I actually contacted the city arborist because I was worried the tree would not survived the once-a-month watering regiment my native plants will eventually enjoy. But the arborist assured me the tree would be fine without water, and he has been right.

At the time, I asked my self: Do I want to petition to take out a perfectly healthy tree that fits well with the neighborhood, has beautiful fall color, does not grow too tall, and is not too shady? And I decided no, I wanted to keep the tree. Then, after the leaves had fallen last winter, I watched the finches perform their acrobatics on the seedpods, and was pretty sure I'd made the right decision.

BUT now it's fall again, the first storms blow through, and leaves are everywhere. I could clean up the bird bath once an hour, and don't even want to show photos of the dry stream bed.

BUT then I look at the leave and the seedpods, and they really are beautiful.

BUT I'm really spending quite a bit of time raking and collecting the leaves.

BUT I actually kind of enjoy being outside, the smell of the leaves, the sound of the birds, the colors...

BUT there are still so many leaves on the tree, and so many on the ground.

Well, all right. Could I choose, I might prefer a Blue Oak (Quercus douglasii). But for now, I'll just enjoy the smells and sights of fall. By the end of the year, the tree will be bare. Though with luck, there will be seedpods for the finches.


Katie said…
We had liquidambars at our old house, and it was a love/hate relationship, so I know where you're coming from. Think of the leaves as "resources" for your compost pile and gardens, the seedpods as critter food, and ignore the fact that they drop branches - they aren't too bad all things considered.
Gail said…
I love them and would take the leaves and seedpods over some of the weedier native trees in my suburban forested yard. But I do totally get your mixed feelings about falling leaves everywhere and the constant mowing, mulching and raking they require. gail
Rosey Pollen said…
I will trade you some pine needles for the leaves. :)
The fall foliage is awesome you shared.
Country Mouse said…
Did you mean the smells and *sighs* of fall!?

I have similar arguments with myself over the small ornamental eucalypt that the hummingbirds fill while awaiting their turn to dine at my father's humminbird buffet! It has rounder leaves, and stays small - not sure what type it is.
Randy Emmitt said…

It is a pretty tree, seems like a good idea to keep it. I once had a neighbor who bought the wooded lot across the road from me. He paid extra for the wooded lot, then cut down more than half the trees, the sweet gums that is..
Anonymous said…
I'll take it for the fall foliage's one of the only ones to color up here in So. CAL.
rebecca Sweet said…
I'm glad you kept the tree. Young boys will thank you as they walk by, grab a handful of the 'balls' to throw at their friends.....sounds like I speak from experience, doesn't it? These trees are definitely beautiful, and luckily they only drop their leaves once a year..versus the constant, constant, constant leaf drop of an Oak!! My neighbor's pine tree drives me CRAZY with all of the needles blown over with every single wind.... Great post and beautiful photos!
Brad B said…
I agree with Rebecca. Trees that aren't deciduous just end up dropping leaves constantly. Think of it as a meditation exercise as you rake the leaves and appreciate fall.
I have a soft spot for a number of California-inappropriate plants, but these guys are better than many of them. My mother planted one during my teen years, and I got to watch the tree go from tiny sapling to young adult. At least these don't self-sow everywhere like they do in the southeast. They're messy for a few weeks, but what deciduous tree isn't?