Trees

Liquidambar, the tree with red leaves

The Liquidambar is a wonderful tree, for me one of the most beautiful with its leaves that in autumn turn a caramel color so colorful and pleasant. It has an amazing bearing and elegance, and it also withstands the cold very well, as well as frost.

When the climate and local conditions are favorable, it is a wonderful garden plant. But when that is not the case, it becomes a difficult species, which must be given special care so that it can get ahead.

Origin and characteristics of liquidambar

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Image – Wikimedia/ Kugamazog

Image – Flickr/ Kew on Flickr

I have always wanted to have a type of liquidambar but the truth is that you need enough space to plant one because it is a tree that grows a lot. It is popularly known as the amber tree although it is also known as Estoraque and Ozocol. Its scientific name is Liquidambar styraciflua L. and it belongs to the Hamamelidaceae family and owes its name to the aromatic resin of its bark.

Although it is native to the southern United States, Mexico and Guatemala, this tree has been adopted in many latitudes due to its beauty, with maple-shaped leaves that in autumn become the center of attention due to their intense colors, among yellow and reddish. To achieve these tones, the tree must be exposed to sunlight, something that affects the intensity of the leaves: in cold autumns and with sun the color of the leaves is more intense. In summer however, it is a medium-crowned tree with green leaves. The most difficult season for this species is winter because, because it is a deciduous tree, it loses its foliage.

Another aspect for which the Liquidambar stands out is its trunk, which has a bark with very marked indentations. The wood of this species of tree is used to make furniture. It can grow up to 40 meters in height and a diameter of 10 meters. It is a tree that requires patience due to its slow growth. During the first years you will notice that it barely grows but after a few years it becomes a splendid tree that is worth having in the garden. Near the third or fourth year its growth occurs faster and then slows down when we talk about a mature tree.

It blooms during the spring, when inflorescences made up of a large number of unisexual flowers sprout. It produces fruits towards the end of the season that are like globose capsules of about 2-4 centimeters in diameter.

How is it cared for?

The liquidambar is a tree that looks great in a garden, but it is important that you know, in addition to its characteristics, also its needs. In this way, you will be able to know if it is the plant you really need:

Location

It is a plant that must be outside every day, every year. Feeling how the seasons change over the months will help you know when to bloom, when to drop its leaves, how long to rest, or when to resume growth for example.

If it is grown indoors, or if it is grown in an area where the climate is tropical, or even subtropical, it will cost a lot to grow, since it is a tree that needs to rest in winter, and for this it requires that temperatures drop below 0 degrees.

Earth

Yard

Due to the size that it reaches, the ideal is to plant it in the garden as soon as possible, as soon as it measures about 20 centimeters. Of course, if it is planted so young, it is highly recommended to protect it from possible herbivorous animals with a net.

The soil, whether you don’t want to wait for it to grow or if you plant it bigger, has to be slightly acidic. It is a plant that in clayey soils tends to suffer iron chlorosis, therefore requiring iron chelates frequently. Also, if the climate is Mediterranean, it is better to use a mixture of akadama and pumice so that it can grow normally.

Flower pot

Since it is a seed until it reaches a certain size, it is highly advisable to have it in a pot. This has to have drainage holes, and it can be made of plastic or mud, although if you opt for the first option, we recommend a plastic outdoor pot, which is much more resistant to environmental conditions than a common one.

In any case, the substrate to be used has to be specific for acid plants, like this one sold here.

How to water a liquidambar?

Image – Wikimedia/ Dcrjsr

The liquidambar is a plant that does not withstand drought. If the summer is hot (30ºC or more) and dry, it may be necessary to water very often, like 3 or even 4 times a week. During winter, or in the rainy season, this frequency will be less, since the land takes longer to dry out.

It is very important to irrigate with rainwater or without lime, for the same reason that we mentioned before with the earth: if it is watered with calcareous water, it will not be able to absorb the iron since it is blocked. Thus, its leaves will end up yellowing, unless it is watered with iron chelates, or at least with one suitable for human consumption.

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In spring, and especially in summer, it is advisable to pay the liquidambar once every week or fifteen days. For this, organic fertilizers are used, such as compost or guano, or (chemical) compounds. You can also choose to use both types: one month one and the next month another.

Pruning

It is not a tree that should be pruned. By itself it acquires the shape and bearing that we like so much. However, if you see that it has a dry branch, do not hesitate to remove it when necessary.

Planting or transplanting time

If you feel like planting it in the garden or changing the pot, do it in spring. But be careful, only if it is a plant that has already rooted well. Extracting a liquidambar from a pot that it has been in for a short time could greatly weaken it as the root ball (soil bread) would crumble and its roots would be damaged.

So, before doing anything, make sure that roots are coming out of the drainage holes, or if when you pull up – gently – you see the whole root ball come out.

Multiplication

It is a tree that multiplies by seeds, which need to be cold before germinating. Therefore, if in your area the temperature drops below 10ºC in winter and there are frosts, you can plant them in pots so that nature can do its job; But if the climate is mild, the ideal is to stratify them in the fridge for three months at a temperature of 6ºC.

In order to prevent fungi from damaging them, it is highly recommended to treat them with copper or powdered sulfur.

Rusticity

It resists both cold and frost down to -18ºC.

What uses is given to liquidambar?

The amber tree is a plant that has several uses:

Ornamental

Image – Drew Avery

It is the most widespread. It is widely planted in gardens, either as an isolated specimen or in groups. For example, it is very beautiful in alignments, forming natural and tall hedges that give privacy to the place. But it can also be worked as bonsai.

Medicinal

Both the resin, the bark and the roots were already used by Native Americans to lower fever, cut diarrhea, as a sedative, and to relieve skin problems.

Wood

The wood from its trunk is used to make furniture and others (such as photo frames) to have indoors. It is compact and fine-grained, but its resistance to outdoor conditions is very limited.

Where to buy?

If you want to have your own liquidambar, click here to buy seeds.

What do you think of this species? You like? Without a doubt, it is one of the most wonderful trees that we can find, so if you have space and want to plant a plant that stands out for its size and color, do not hesitate to choose it.

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