This is the AMERICAN SWEETGUM. The American sweetgum is named for its resinous, amber-colored, sweet sap located in the bark that produces a chewing gum type substance. Native Americans used the sweetgum sap as chewing gum, as well as in the treatment of various disorders.
You may also recognize this tree by its spiky seed balls, sometimes called gumballs. Most of the seeds in these seed pods do not germinate because they are eaten by squirrels, chipmunks, and birds as soon as they fall to the ground.
The glossy and dark green American sweetgum leaves are star shaped with five to seven pointed lobes and serrated edges. The bark is gray, furrowed, rough and scaly. It looks similar to the skin of an alligator, earning it the name “alligator wood.”
An American sweetgum can grow from 60 to 150 feet and the canopy may spread as far as 45 feet. The American sweetgum grows primarily in the southeast, but it can also be found from Texas to northern Illinois.
The sweetgum wood is a highly utilized commercial wood, similar to oak, and is used for fine hardwood floors, cabinetry and paneling. An American sweetgum can live up to 400 years in the wild. Because the spiny balls produced by the Sweetgum can be undesirable, fruitless varieties have been cultivated for decoration in landscaping.