Guide to Arbor Day

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Credits: International Society of Arboriculture, An Introductory Guide to Arbor Day,


Welcome to the Brunswick County Educational Talking Tree Trail. While you are walking on this trail, please notice the many different types of trees. There are several talking stations along the way to explain different types of common trees in this area. Along the trail you will find trees with identification signs near them so that you may test your knowledge of trees. Hope you have an exceptional trip as you walk along the trail.


By definition, a forest is a plant community, predominantly made up of trees or other woody vegetation occupying an extensive area of land. In its natural state, a forest remains in a relatively fixed, self-regulated condition over a long period of time. Climate, soil, and the topography of the region determine the characteristic trees of a forest. In local environments, dominant species of trees are characteristically associated with certain shrubs and herbs. The type of vegetation on the forest floor is influenced by the larger and taller plants, but because low vegetation affects the organic composition of the soil, the influence is reciprocal. Disturbances such as a forest fire or timber harvesting may result in a shift to another forest type. When left undisturbed, ecological succession will eventually result in a climax forest community. Human intervention can be practiced to maintain some desirable forest types.

Forests may be divided into general types on the basis of leaf characteristics and climate.

Deciduous forests of the temperate regions are the typical formation of the eastern United States. Two subtypes exist; forests of the same latitude in the northern and southern hemispheres are radically different, probably due to the continental climate of the northern hemisphere and the oceanic climate of the southern.

Deciduous monsoon forests are characteristic of Bengal and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and common throughout Southeast Asia and India; they are also found along the Pacific coastal regions of Mexico and Central America. The climate is characterized by heavy daily rainfall, seasonally relieved by dry periods during which the trees shed their leaves.


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Three major forest areas exist in the United States. The western forests of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific coast are coniferous and contain Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, western white pine, Engelmann spruce, and white fir. More than half of the softwood lumber yield of the United States comes from the productive Douglas fir forests of the Pacific Northwest. The South Atlantic and Gulf states account for most of the remaining softwood lumber, chiefly from longleaf, shortleaf, loblolly, and slash pines. Hardwoods, yielding about one-fourth of the total production, are found in the eastern half of the United States, with particularly dense stands in the area surrounding the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys. Among the many hardwood species are oaks, black walnut, yellow poplar, and sugar maple.


More than one-fourth of the forest area of the United States is under the administration of the Forest Service. Beginning in 1891 with a single area in Wyoming, the National Forest System had by the late 1980s expanded to more than 191 million acres in 44 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

The earliest national forests, called forest reserves, were established through reservation of public lands. Present national forests, whose boundaries are established by Congress, cover areas that include about 17 percent privately held land, which the federal government is acquiring gradually. Almost every state has a state forester, whose duties involve administration and protection of state forestlands.


Nature has concocted an ingenious exchange program between plants and animals. Animals (and that includes humans) take in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide as they breathe. Without a steady, consistent supply of oxygen we could not survive.

Plants operate in the reverse. They take carbon dioxide from the air and give off oxygen. The carbon dioxide is absolutely essential to plant life and growth.

Some botanists think this relationship between plants and animals explains why houseplants are more likely to thrive when someone talks to them regularly; the talking gives the plants an intense, direct dose of carbon dioxide.

Whatever may be the explanations for the benefits of talking to plants, there is no questioning the value of what plants do for humans and other animals in filling the air with life-

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giving oxygen. Potted plants in the home add not only beauty and sense of aliveness, they also help purify the air by absorbing the carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen.

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Just as houseplants function as air filters indoors, trees, shrubs, and other green vegetation operate on a greater scale outdoors to absorb the carbon dioxide and pump oxygen into the atmosphere. This chemical process is a built-in and indispensable role within the ecosystem. Life on this planet would not be possible without the green plants that manufacture oxygen.

The sanitizing function of plants is not limited to providing oxygen, however. Their leaves act as tiny filters which catch dust and other pollutants, then the rain comes and washes the particles back into the soil. They provide shade in the summer and many evergreen trees can be used to provide windbreaks in the winter. This helps us by lowering our heating bills in the winter and cooling bills in the summer. Trees are wonderful!

History of Arbor Day

Arbor Day is the result of a dream, a vision of the future, by a steadfast and dedicated man, J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska. Born in upper New York State in 1832, educated in Michigan, young Morton followed the westward movement of the pioneers and in 1854 settled on the west bank of the Missouri River near the present town of Nebraska City.

Arbor Day is purely American in origin and grew out of conditions peculiar to the Great Plains. The Great Plains is practically treeless over much of its area, but in the mid 1800s there was flourishing agriculture due to a soil and climate able to nourish good tree growth.

Arbor Day originated and was first observed in Nebraska in 1872. The plan was conceived by Mr. Morton, then a member of the State Board of Agriculture and later United States Secretary of Agriculture. At a meeting of the State Board of Agriculture of Nebraska, held at Lincoln January 4, 1872, he introduced a resolution to the effect that Wednesday, the 10th day of April 1872 be set apart for tree planting in the State of Nebraska and named Arbor Day.

Wide publicity was given to the plan and more than a million trees were planted in Nebraska on that first Arbor Day. Before 1872, however, tree planting had been haphazard. The adoption of the Arbor Day plan meant organization of tree planting work. As early as April 4, 1895, the State had become so active in tree raising that the legislature passed a resolution that the State be popularly known as the tree Planters’ State. Under the Kincaid Act, the Forest Service distributed 2,000,000 young trees from the Federal nursery to 10,000 residents in addition to the planting done on government land in Nebraska. In North Carolina we celebrate Arbor Day on the first Friday after March 15.


J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day, loved trees for their own sake, for their beauty, and for the creation of an enjoyable environment. He planted the grounds of his home, “Arbor Lodge,” with rare and exotic trees from all over the world. “Arbor Lodge” is now a Nebraska State Park. The magnificent trees Mr. Morton planted more than a century ago may be viewed and enjoyed by all.

Morton’s trees grew and flourished. He encouraged his neighbors to plant. He then conceived the idea of planting trees over all the bleak plains of Nebraska. He knew how important trees were in developing a pleasing home environment and in controlling the rigors of a harsh climate.


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The Arbor Day idea quickly spread to neighboring states. Within the next 20 years practically all the states celebrated Arbor Day by planting trees with appropriate ceremonies. In 1967, North Carolina officially set the first Friday after March 15 as the date to celebrate Arbor Day. By the turn of the century it was well established and became almost traditional everywhere.

Schools have always been foremost in celebrating Arbor Day. Many parents and grandparents think fondly of the day when they helped plant a tree. Some of the oldsters often revisit the site to admire a magnificent specimen they planted as a small sapling many years ago. Children today will some day come back to visit their school and say, “I helped plant that tree.”

J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day, achieved fame and prosperity in his state and nation. He served his state and his country as a leader of various activities. But after all his other achievements and rewards are forgotten, one remains—the establishment of Arbor Day. His dream that made it possible goes on and on in the hearts and minds of people.

Tree Plant Considerations

The tree species selected for planting must be suitable for the geographic range, tolerant to the moisture and drainage conditions of the soil, and offer pest resistance. Aesthetics and function should also be integrated into the selection process. Important characteristics to be considered are tree form or shape, mature height (especially important under utility lines), growth rate, longevity, and the ornamental features of foliage, bark, flower, and fruit which also includes color, texture, season, size, and fall coloration. The mature tree should not be constricted by buildings, sidewalks, or overhead utility lines. Be sure and consider whether you want or need the tree to be evergreen.

Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)


Good day to you. I am a black cherry. My scientific name is Prunus serotina. My foliage is green oval leaves, orange fall color. My height is 60 to 80 feet and my spread is 30 feet. My shape is oval and my and my growth characteristics are a moderate growth rate.

The black cherry tree is the tallest of the cherry trees and has drooping clusters of white flowers that appear in the spring. It flowers later than other native cherry trees. The small fruits that ripen in the summer provide food for birds. The fruit is edible but somewhat bitter in taste. Its ornamental bark is rough and black, but it is shiny on young branches. I can grow in a variety of climate zones, so be sure to plant me in any of the zones from 3 to 9 where I can receive full sun for best growth. I need moist soil that is neutral to acidic; I can tolerate sandy and gravelly sites.


Hi there! I am a black cherry tree. Sometimes I am called a rum cherry or a mountain black cherry tree.

I am usually a small tree, although I can sometimes grow up to 80 feet tall.

I can be seen just about anywhere because I can grow in almost any soil and because I can tolerate shade as an understory plant. Understory trees, like black cherry, can grow under taller trees such as oaks and hickories.


My black cherry leaves are dark green on top and light green on bottom. They grow up to five inches long and two inches wide. My leaves turn yellow to red in the fall.

Black cherry flowers are small and clustered in columns. We bloom in April and May and my fruits are small and turn from orange to red to black. Many animals eat these fruits.

The bark of black cherry is dark gray and scaly and as I get older, my bark gets rougher.


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Some other trees that you may find around us include oaks, hickories, sassafras, Eastern white pine, loblolly pine, American holly, red maple, American beech, sugar maple, yellow poplar, American elm, and American hornbeam.

I also grow along with witch hazel, violets, and club mosses, among other plants.

Some plants have a negative effect on me. Goldenrod, asters, and bracken fern give off chemicals which causes me to not grow so well. This is called allelopathy.

Many birds and mammals eat black cherry fruit, including American robin, brown thrasher, northern mockingbird, eastern bluebird, European starling, gray catbird, blue jay, northern cardinal, American crow, woodpeckers, sparrows, northern bobwhite, wild turkey, red fox, eastern cottontail, Virginia opossum, raccoon, and eastern gray squirrel.

Caterpillars of many moths and butterflies eat black cherry leaves, including eastern tiger swallowtail, viceroy, red spotted purple, and painted lady. Eastern tent caterpillars can often kill black cherry trees by eating most of the leaves.


Opossum, raccoon, squirrels, rabbits, white-tailed deer, eastern cottontail, mice, and meadow voles all eat my black cherry seedlings.

Animals which eat my fruit of black cherry also help the tree spread and grow new trees. After they have eaten the fruits, the seeds come out in the animals’ waste someplace new.

Many of the following use me for shelter—moths, butterflies, songbirds, and many other insects.

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Credits: Natorp’s

Hi, I am a dogwood. My real name is Cornus florida. I am the queen of the native flowering trees. I have a four-season character, beautiful flowers, summer and fall foliage, fruit and winter habit. I am excellent as a specimen plant, near a patio or corner of a house, in groupings, or against dark evergreens or building background where the flowers can be seen and enjoyed.

I am a dogwood tree with small and low-branched limbs with spreading lines. I have a layered effect usually with a flat-topped crown. At maturity, I am often wider than I am high. We are slow to grow after transplanting, but gradually assume a medium growth rate.


My leaf color is a bronze-green to yellow-green when unfolding, then turning a dark green in summer. I am one of the most consistent trees for fall color turning a red to reddish purple. The actual flowers are a greenish yellow and are surrounded by four showy white or pink bracts which are each about 2” long. I flower usually in mid to late April for 10 to 14 days, sometimes longer. The fruit is a glossy red berry that forms in clusters of three or more and ripens September to October and can persist into December if not devoured by the birds. I can grow 20 to 40 feet in height with a spread equal to or greater than the height. I like well-drained soil and grow best in partial sun.


It may seem odd, but I am the North Carolina state flower as well as a tree. I have been North Carolina’s favorite flower for more than 60 years. Here are a few interesting facts about the flower that is a tree—or vice versa.

The dogwood was almost not our state flower. The daisy gained support in the 1930s, but the bill proposing it as state flower was defeated eventually. Later, the dogwood beat out the flame azalea at the last minute. The legislature passed a bill making it official on March 15, 1941.


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The bark of Cornus florida, the flowering dogwood, was often used to treat dogs with mange. This may explain how the tree got its name. I like this story—how can you tell a dogwood tree? … by its bark!

The petals of the dogwood are actually leaves, called bracts, which surround a cluster of about 20 tiny yellow flowers. As the flowers open, the showy, white, pink, or red bracts expand and attract insects for pollination.


The wood of the dogwood tree was used to make weaving shuttles for the textile industry. Nearly 90 percent of the dogwoods harvested in the 1800s went toward this use. The durable wood wore smoothly and did not crack under the strain of high-speed continuous use.

Dogwood trees begin to show their fall colors as early as September, well before other trees in our region. The colorful leaves of the dogwood are believed to help migrating birds spot the tree’s red berries, which give them energy for the trip south.

American Indians used dogwood trees to make arrows, daggers, and toothbrushes. They also planted corn when the trees bloomed.


When supply lines to the South were cut during the Civil War and quinine was no longer available for treating malaria, an extract from my dogwood bark was used as a substitute.

My roots can be used to make a scarlet dye.

The dense, hard wood of the dogwood tree has a high resistance to shock. This makes it an ideal choice for the heads of golf clubs and the handles of chisels.

My favorite dogwood story follows: An American Indian legend tells of a beautiful Cherokee princess who was slain by the jealous brave whose suit she had refused. As the maiden lay dying, she picked up a dogwood blossom and used it to soak up her blood. This is why there are stains on the tips of each petal. The red dogwood, called the Cherokee, bears its color in memory of the girl.

A North Carolina law protects wild dogwood trees from damage or removal.


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A large number of the problems experienced by me will likely be as a result of poor soil conditions, inadequate moisture and watering, or improper care.

As a dogwood, some of the problems I face are the dogwood borer. This pest threatens not just dogwoods, but also members of the hickory, elm, willow, oak chestnut, and apple families among others. It is common in the United States west of the Rockies and in Canada. Damage is caused by insects in the larval or caterpillar stage burrowing beneath the bark of trees to eat healthy tissue. Moderate infestations slow growth while heavy or repeated infestations can kill trees by girdling and disrupting the flow of sap.


As a dogwood, my major disease is dogwood anthracnose. The lovely flowering dogwood, a source of so much delight from my spring flowers to my autumn colors, has a lethal enemy—dogwood anthracnose. Caused by a fungus, Discula destructiva, dogwood anthracnose has devastated wild flowering dogwood populations in large areas of North America. The disease is relatively recent in origin, first noticed in 1978 with the fungus itself only identified in 1991. So far, dogwood anthracnose has affected trees in the mountains and foothills of North Carolina and should not be a problem for us on the coast since the disease needs a cool, humid, stagnant place to survive. Another anthracnose disease causes spots on my petals and leaves. It does not kill me, but instead causes cosmetic damage only. This disease is called spot anthracnose and should not be confused with the other deadly type of anthracnose.

My other disease problem is powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is a common fungal disease that can appear on many types of trees and plants. While it will not necessarily kill outright, the plant or tree will become more susceptible to other problems and its appearance and the amount of fruit it produces will become compromised.


Hi, I’m a dogwood tree. In my forest, wildlife abounds. In fact, I play a role in ensuring wildlife thrives in these areas. I supply many songbirds, game birds, and small mammals with lots of seeds that they use to make a meal. The birds use my branches to hide and many make nests in my branches. I help provide the birds and animals a home.

Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda L.)

Credits: James B. Baker & O. Gordon Langdon

Plant Information Center

I am a loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda), sometimes called an Arkansas pine, North Carolina pine, or oldfield pine. I am one of the most commercially important forest species in the southern United States. I am dominant on about 29 million acres and make up over one-half of the standing pine volume. I am a medium-lived, intolerant to moderately tolerant tree with rapid juvenile growth. My species responds well to silvicultural treatments and can be managed as either even-aged or uneven-aged natural stands or can be regenerated artificially and managed in plantations.


My name is loblolly pine and my native range extends through 14 states from southern New Jersey south to central Florida and west to eastern Texas. It includes the Atlantic plain, the piedmont plateau, and the southern extremities of the Cumberland plateau, the highland rim, and the valley and ridge provinces of the Appalachian highlands. I do not grow naturally in the Mississippi River flood plain and I am scarce in the deep, coarse sands of the lower Atlantic plain and sandhills of North and South Carolina. I am important only in localized areas in southeastern Georgia and northern Florida. In some cases, I have even been grown on other continents as I am very adaptable.


The climate over most of the loblolly pine range is humid, warm-temperate with long, hot summers and mild winters. Average annual rainfall varies from 40 to 60 inches. The frost-free period varies from 5 months in the northern part of the range to 10 months along the southern coastal States. Mean annual temperatures range from 55° to 75°F; average July temperature is 80°F and frequently exceeds 100°F. January temperature averages 40° to 60°F and occasionally drops to -10°F in the northern and western parts of the range (69).

The main factor limiting northern extension of my species is probably low winter temperature with associated damage from ice, snow, and sleet and cold damage during flowering. Lack of water or rain probably stops me from growing any further west than Oklahoma and Texas.


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I grow in pure stands and in mixtures with other pines or hardwoods, and in association with a great variety of lesser vegetation. I grow with longleaf, shortleaf, and Virginia pine, southern red, white, post, and blackjack oak, sassafras, and persimmon on well-drained sites. Pond pine, spruce pine, blackgum, red maple, and water oak, willow oak , and cherrybark oak are common associates on moderately to poorly drained sites. In the southern part of my range, I can frequently be found with slash pine and laurel oak.

There is a great variety of lesser vegetation found growing with me. Some common understory trees and shrubs include flowering dogwood, American holly, inkberry, yaupon, hawthorn, southern bayberry, pepperbush, sumac, and a number of ericaceous shrubs. Some common herbaceous species include bluestems, panicums, sedges, and fennels.


I start flowering in July and August in a bud that is set from middle June to early July. The buds remain dormant until early February. I start growing a bud in mid June to early July and my flowering starts in July and August.


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My needles occur in clusters of three. They are slender and stiff, 6 to 9 inches long and pale green. They drop during the third season.

I also have oblong cones which are 2 to 6 inches long, light reddish to brown, and are armed with a spine at the tip of each scale. My cones will drop their seeds in autumn and winter but I will hold onto the cones for another year.

At 60 years my mature bark is thick, bright reddish to brown, and is divided by shallow fissures into broad, flat-topped plates covered with thin scales. I often reach 90 to 110 feet in height on good sites, with a tall, cylindrical trunk 2 to 3 feet in diameter. My lower, short, thick branches on older trees droop, while my higher branches grow upward. My mature crown usually is compact and round-topped. Resinous wood is coarse-grained with a marked contrast inside of me—as in other yellow pines—between the bands of spring and summer wood. Sometimes people will count these rings to find out how old I am.

I have a wide range of uses, such as lumber, pulpwood, plywood, poles, and piling. Because I am useful and grow very quickly, I am the target of much of the forest management in North Carolina—and in the entire southeast. I am the most widely planted forest tree and many thousands of acres of productive loblolly pine plantations are now growing in North Carolina.


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I am a loblolly pine and some of my problems are caused by wind, lightning, temperature extremes, ice, drought, flooding, insects, and diseases. Lots of literature about the effects of these problems in my pine stands are available; a brief summary follows.

When I grow large, I am more vulnerable to high winds than smaller trees, and trees with large cankers caused by rust disease break more readily than sound trees. In general, damage resulting from severe winds associated with hurricanes or thunderstorms is caused primarily by windthrow or blowdown. Windthrow is most common on shallow soils with coarse-textured profiles. Wind damage is also more likely to occur in recently thinned stands.

Direct losses to lightning are small, averaging only about 2 trees per 100 acres) per year. Large, dominant, open-grown trees are generally the most vulnerable to lightning strikes. Probably more important than the direct damage caused by lightning is the possibility that a lightning-struck tree will become a center for insect infestation.

My seedling babies cannot stand cold or hot temperatures nor can the seedlings tolerate flooding.


As a loblolly pine, I serve as host to a multitude of insect pests; however, insect outbreaks vary greatly in frequency, area, and duration. The majority of outbreaks are small and short-lived and usually consist of only one or a few spots in a stand, but some may expand until they encompass hundreds of acres and last for several years before subsiding. With only a few exceptions, the majority of the insects that attack loblolly pine are insignificant in terms of damage or mortality.

My other serious insect pests are bark beetles, particularly the southern pine beetle whose attack may result in extensive mortality and pine engraver beetles that can cause death of isolated or small groups of trees. Pine tip moths can often infest young trees. I am the favorite host of the southern pine beetle which is the most destructive insect for this species. Most infestations originate in stands that are under stress because of poor site, adverse weather, overstocking, or overmaturity. Once a buildup of southern pine beetle occurs, adjacent well-managed stands may also be attacked.


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Loblolly pines growing in plantations provide habitat for a variety of game and nongame wildlife species. The primary game species that inhabit pine and pine-hardwood forests include white-tailed deer, gray and fox squirrel, bobwhite quail, wild turkey, mourning doves, and rabbits. Some of these species utilize the habitat through all stages of stand development, while others are attracted for only a short time during a particular stage of development. For example, a loblolly pine plantation can provide forage for deer only from the time of planting until the crown overhead closes. This usually occurs in 8 to 10 years. Bobwhite tend to use the plantation until a decline in favored food species occurs. As the habitat deteriorates, deer and quail usually move to mature pine or pine-hardwood forests or to other newly established plantations. Management modifications such as wider planting spacing and early and frequent thinnings will delay crown closure, and periodic prescribed bums will stimulate wildlife food production.

Wild turkeys inhabit upland pine and pine-hardwood forests and do particularly well on large tracts of mature timber with frequent openings and where prescribed burning is conducted.

Pine lands are the chief habitat for some birds such as the pine warbler, brown-headed nuthatch, and Bachman's warbler. Old-growth stands are very important to the existence of the red-cockaded woodpecker. Large loblolly pine trees are favorite roosting places for many birds and provide an important nesting site for ospreys and the bald eagle.

In urban forestry, loblolly pines often are used as shade trees and for wind and noise barriers throughout the South. They also have been used extensively for soil stabilization and control of areas subject to severe surface erosion and gullying. Loblolly pine provides rapid growth and site occupancy and good litter production for these purposes.

Redbay (Persea borbonia)

Credit: Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS)

Greetings! I am Persia borbonia – people usually refer to me by my common name – redbay. I am a North American native evergreen tree and I can reach 50 feet in height with a comparable spread but I often seem somewhat shorter and wider, particularly when grown in the open in an urban area. My glossy, leathery, medium green, six-inch leaves emit a spicy fragrance when crushed and my inconspicuous, springtime flower clusters are followed by small, dark blue fruits which ripen in fall. These fruits are enjoyed by birds and squirrels and add to my beauty and overall attractiveness for wildlife. My trunk bears very showy, ridged, red-brown bark and frequently branches low to the ground forming a multi-stemmed habit similar to live oak, but it can be pruned to make a single, short central leader which would be most suitable for many urban plantings.


Use and Management: Thriving on little care in full sun or partial shade, redbays can tolerate a wide range of soils, from hot and dry to wet and swampy. Redbay is a rugged and adaptable plant suitable to many landscape applications. Unfortunately, the wood is reportedly brittle and subject to wind damage. Pruning to keep lateral branches less than half the diameter of the trunk will increase the tree's longevity and help prevent branches from separating from the trunk. The densely-foliated, spreading branches create a lush, billowy, rounded canopy making redbay a wonderful shade tree. It can make a nice street tree planted on 20 to 25-foot centers but be sure to prune it properly as mentioned. Plant with caution where cars will park or near sidewalks since birds love the fruit and often visit the tree, leaving their droppings on cars. The fruit can also be messy on cars and walks. Its ease of growth and neat, dense crown habit also make redbay ideal for the low-maintenance and naturalized landscape. The dark brown, furrowed bark is particularly attractive on older specimens.

Propagation is by seed which germinate readily after several months in the ground.
Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflus linnaeus)


A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America, Donald Culross Peattie
Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS)
Out of a bizarre and dramatic moment of history comes, like a puff of pungent smoke, the first reference to this American tree. It is written by a witness of the ceremonies between Cortez and Montezuma, and he says, of the Emperor: “After he had dined, they presented to him three little canes highly ornamental, containing liquid-amber, mixed with an herb they call tobacco, and when he had sufficiently viewed and heard the singers, dancers, and buffoons, he took a little of the smoke of one of these canes.”

He must have recognized the burning liquid-amber by its odor, since, though no Liquidambar is native to Europe, the gum of an Asiatic species was well known in the pharmacopeias of western civilization and was prized as an incense in Christian churches and Indian temples. The plant which produced it, however, was for a long time quite unknown to science and the gum arrived mysteriously in the markets of Constantinople either as a resin floating in water and sewed up in goatskin bags or as a bark in camel’s-hair bags. Retailed over Europe at advanced prices, it was valued both in perfumery and incense and in the treatment of diphtheria. Ultimately Europe learned that the gum was derived from Liquidambar orientalis.


The American species which produces a like resin was described to Europe by Francisco Hernandez, the first great herbalist of Mexico who dwelt in that country from 1571 to 1575. He speaks of it aptly as having leaves “almost like those of a maple” and a resin of which the “nature is hot in the third order, and dry, and added to tobacco, it strengthens the head, belly, and heart, induces sleep, and alleviates pains in the head that are caused by colds.

According to a translation, this account of the learned (if credulous) Hernandez did not see print until about 1651. Yet over 20 years earlier the sweetgum tree, as most Americans call it, had been recognized—for the first time on the soil of the present United States—by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. This bold, Christian, and observant adventurer was a member of one of the most desperate of the Spanish expeditions into the New World, and so it was he found himself in 1528 near the present Appalachicola, Florida. “The country,” says he, “where we came on shore to this town and region of Apalachen is for the most part level, the ground of

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sandy and stiff earth. Throughout are immense trees and open woods in which are walnut, laurel, and another tree called liquid-amber. This account was apparently published for the first time in 1542, long after Cabeza de Vaca had returned home after shipwreck, Indian captivity, near starvation in the wilderness, and further incredible hardships.


This sweetgum is a noble tree that might well impress anyone new to the sight of it. And the sight is a common one for it grows along any fence row, in piedmont Virginia, beside any country road of the Carolinas, in any field abandoned by agriculture and growing up to scrub pine and dogwood. It comes up in company, in these upland sites, with sassafras and red cedar, and may be known by its beautiful star-shaped leaves. Their upper surface has a star-like glister, but unlike most shining leaves, those of the sweetgum are not dark at maturity but a light yellow-green. Crushed in the fingers, they give out a cleanly fragrance; on the tongue they have a tart taste. Foliage so odd and yet so attractive would make any tree conspicuous.

But even when the leaves have turned a deep winy crimson and fallen, sweetgum is striking by reason of the corky wings on the twig. True, one might confuse them with those of some of the Elms, but the fruiting heads of woody spiny balls, hanging all winter on the slim stalks after the winged seeds have escaped, are unique among all American trees. In the eastern states and on uplands, the sweetgum is often a small tree, sturdy rather than graceful, 20 to 40 feet tall. In the deep gumbo soils of the Mississippi Valley, in the swamps of Missouri’s Tiwappatty Bottom, sweetgum becomes a giant, up to 140 feet high with a trunk five feet thick.


Country folk refer to it simply as gum tree, and to furniture salesmen the wood is plain Gum, or Gum wood, which is confusingly ambiguous since many trees are called so. In the pharmaceutical trade the name for the exudates of this tree is liquid-amber, or copalm balm, or incorrectly, storax. The gum, which is considered identical in its properties with the oriental gum, flows from the tree in the form of bitter-tasting but sweet-smelling balsamic liquid. It is then semitransparent and yellowish brown, but on exposure to the air it hardens into a rosin-like and darker solid. From pioneer times it was used in the south for the treatment of sores and skin troubles, for a chewing gum, for catarrh, and in the treatment of dysentery was much favored by doctors in the Confederate armies.


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In the years that followed the Civil War, American copalm sank into insignificance, for Oriental storax could easily undersell it. During the first World War, interest in the native gum revived, only to languish again. In the second World War, with Formosa (whence it had been coming chiefly) completely cut off, it became definitely important as a needed base of salves, adhesives, perfuming powders, soaps, and tobacco flavoring, just as in the days of Montezuma. Clarke County, Alabama, which had retained from the first World War a memory of the technique of tapping the trees, became the center of the industry.


Sweetgum grows in a narrow pyramid to a height of 75 feet and may spread to 50 feet. The beautifully glossy, star-shaped leaves turn bright red, purple, yellow, or orange in the fall (USDA hardiness zones 6 and 7) and early winter (USDA hardiness zones 8 and 9). On some trees, particularly in the northern part of its range, branches are covered with characteristic corky projections. The trunk is normally straight and does not divide into double or multiple leaders and side branches are small in diameter on young trees, creating a pyramidal form. The bark becomes deeply ridged at about 25 years old. Sweetgum makes a nice conical park, campus, or residential shade tree for large properties when it is young, developing a more oval or rounded canopy as it grows older as several branches become dominant and grow in diameter.


Use and Management: Be careful when locating sweetgum as a street tree since its large, aggressive roots may eventually lift curbs and sidewalks. Plant trees 8 to 10 feet or more away from curbs. Some communities have large numbers of sweetgum planted as street trees. Much of the root system is shallow (particularly in its native, moist habitat), but there are deep vertical roots directly beneath the trunk in well-drained and in some other soils. The fruit may be a litter nuisance to some in the fall, but this is usually only noticeable on hard surfaces, such as roads, patios, and sidewalks where people could slip and fall on the fruit. The cultivar Rotundiloba is fruitless. The tree should be planted only in soil with a pH of 7 or less. The seeds provide food for wildlife and will often readily germinate in shrub and groundcover beds requiring their removal to maintain a neat landscape appearance. Tree thickets form in this manner creating dense monocultures of sweetgum.

Although it grows at a moderate pace, sweetgum is rarely attacked by pests and tolerates wet soils, but chlorosis is often seen in alkaline soils. Trees grow well in deep soil, poorly in

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shallow, droughty soil. It is difficult to transplant and should be planted from containers in the spring when young since it develops deep roots on well-drained soil. Existing trees often die-back near the top of the crown, apparently due to extreme sensitivity to construction injury to the root system, or drought injury. The tree leafs out early in the spring and is sometimes damaged by frost.

Cultivars have been selected for their fall color, leaf shape, or growth habit: ‘Burgundy’—beautiful, glossy green leaves, burgundy red fall color, holds leaves late into fall, narrow pyramid, less cold hardy, more adapted to the southern part of its range; ‘Festival’—narrow upright growth habit, peach-colored fall foliage, less cold hardy, more adapted to the southern part of the range; ‘Moraine’—is reputed to be the most cold hardy; ‘Palo Alto’—pyramidal, symmetrical growth, bright orange fall color; ‘Rotundiloba’—round leaf tips, no fruit production, narrow pyramidal form.

#1: Introduction & Tree-Plant Consideration

Male Voice, Birds Singing, Wind, Chain Saw
#2: Black Cherry

Female Voice, Light Classical Music, Birds Singing

#3: Flowering Dogwood

Female Voice, Light Classical Music, Water Running, Birds Singing

#4: Loblolly Pine

Deep Male Voice, Chain Saw (sawmill sounds), Sound of Tree Falling, Voices Calling

“Timber,” Crows Calling
#5: Red Bay & Arbor Day

Male Voice, Squirrels Chattering, Water Flowing, Birds Singing, Frogs Croaking

#6: Sweetgum

Male Voice, Birds Singing, Background Music

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