Sweetgum is used for timber in the construction of boxes, crates, furniture, cabinets, interior trim, and millwork, whereas red gum is utilized for architectural interiors and cabinet building. Crossbanding, pallets, crates, boxes, and baskets, as well as interior woodwork, are made from sweetgum veneer and plywood.
In addition to being used for timber, sweetgum plants also produce an edible fruit that can be used as food or candy. The fruit is similar to a plum but has a jelly-like center and is green when fresh, turning yellow when dried.
The wood is heavy and strong, with a reddish color. It has a long seasoning period before it will rot if exposed to air and water. However, if the wood is exposed to heat or sunlight during this time it will blacken and crack.
Sweetgum trees can grow up to 40 feet tall with a trunk up to 6 inches in diameter. The leaves are arranged in clusters at the end of branches, oval in shape with five pointed stars under each leaf. The flowers are white, produced in droves throughout the year in dense clusters about one third of the way up the tree. The fruit is composed of several overlapping scales covered in thick skin. When ripe, the fruit falls off the tree into large piles below where they are gathered and carried away by animals.
Sweetgum is a reasonably durable, uniform-grained wood that was once used to make furniture and plywood. It is prone to warping and staining. Except for industrial blocking and pallets, it has a poor value and is presently rarely utilized.
However, because of its hardness and resistance to insects and disease, it is still used for fencing and road signs in some areas where it can be found growing in large quantities. Also known as liquid amber, sweet gum resin is a sticky, colorless to slightly yellowish liquid that dries into a hard brittle material. It is produced by certain species of maple, pine, poplar, and sorghum trees when they are infected with a fungus called Monilinia laxa. The resin is collected when it flows out of small holes that have been punched in the trunk of the tree during or after rain. It is usually sold in plastic bags without further treatment. However, when mixed with other resins, it can be cased and colored to produce incense, jewelry, and art materials.
Furthermore, the soft inner bark of some species of maple, cottonwood, and sycamore trees is also used to produce a paper called flannel tree paper. The process begins with harvesting the wood, which may not be necessary if you are only using the paper for decorative purposes. Next, the wood is boiled to dissolve away any chemicals present, including chlorophyll.
Sweet gum plants offer a variety of medical applications. Their fruit has anti-rheumatic properties. The bark is astringent and can be used to treat dysentery and diarrhea. The tree's gum resin contains anti-inflammatory and expectorant qualities, and it has been used to treat bedsores, topical herpes, and angina. The wood is heavy and strong, and it is used in buildings and bridges.
Gum trees are popular in street and park plantings because of their decorative appearance. They also provide shelter for birds and animals while allowing sunlight through to grow other plants. Native to the United States, sweet gums can be found from Florida all the way up to New York state.
The City of Fort Wayne Parks Department maintains several sweet gum trees in its parks. These include a large specimen in Lincoln Park that is more than 100 years old and another in Washington Square Park that is about 75 years old.
The community is invited to learn more about urban forestry by attending one of the free monthly lecture series presented by the National Arbor Day Foundation in partnership with the City of Fort Wayne. Lectures are held at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month (except August) at the Woodland Library, 815 S. Park St. , across from Lincoln Park. Light refreshments are served.
Sweetgum has a somewhat thick grain pattern and a highly consistent grain pattern. It would resemble soft maple but would be devoid of the white wood. Red gum has the appearance of a cherry but lacks the shine. Dark stains are effectively absorbed by the sapwood. Light stains remain visible for years if not exposed to sunlight or other sources of heat.
The wood is very dense, hard, heavy, and strong. It is used in building boats, especially flat-bottom boats. The wood is also used in tool handles because of its hardness. Sweetgum is widely used in furniture making due to its durability and resistance to insect attack.
It is easy to work with and suitable for carving projects. Sweetgum wood is dark brown with a light yellow color inside the trunk of the tree. The wood has a warm tone and is durable; it can withstand water, heat, and insects without deteriorating. The tree's sap is toxic if ingested so care should be taken not to consume any part of the tree except for the wood itself.
Sweetgum grows in swamps, along creeks, and on riverbanks from Massachusetts to South Carolina. The wood is harvested when the trees are between 50 and 150 years old. Usually only the largest trunks are used for timber production since that is what interests manufacturers of quality furniture. Smaller pieces are usually discarded as waste.