The Teddington Gardener

Like a Maple, but not a Maple….

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Liquidambar styraciflua

My feet take me, every autumn, to a small stand of liquidambars in the arboretum at RHS Wisley, trees which vie with the Japanese Maple for the bonfire colours they take on as the weather cools and the sun heads south.

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The yellow leaves are a fastigiate (slender, columnar, narrow) cultivar called Kirsten – the devilish reds might just be the species, though named varieties like Worplesdon and Lane Roberts have pronounced autumn colouring

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Liquidamber Kirsten

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Liquidambar styraciflua Worplesdon

25m x 12m

Position: sun
Soil: moist, well-drained, acidic to neutral soil
Rate of growth: average
Flowering period: May
Hardiness: fully hardy

A gorgeous tree, with large, star-like, shiny, bright green leaves which turn brilliant purple, then shades of orange and yellow in the autumn. It has a rounded, heavy crown, and although it is not particularly fast-growing, it is not suitable for a small garden, as it is long-lived and will eventually grow to 25 metres. In Britain, it flowers intermittently and inconspicuously in spring, but it is for the foliage that this tree is prized. Grow it either as a specimen tree in grass, or as the centrepiece to a glade. Trees grown in a rich, damp soil in full sun will colour

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While they vie with the Japanese Maple for their autumn colours, the majority of these are not for the average garden, even the fastigiate varieties which are more slender. Having said that, there is a one called Slender Silhouette which, while attaining 18m tall, is likely to be no more than 2m broad. Hmmm.

Liquidambar styraciflua Slender Silhouette

18m x 2m

Position: full sun
Soil: moist, well-drained, acidic to neutral soil
Rate of growth: average
Flowering period: May
Hardiness: fully hardy

There are not too many trees that are suitable for small gardens, so we were delighted when this one was recently introduced from the USA, where it has already won a Gold Medal. It is a cultivar of the American sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, and as the name suggests it has a tall, slender habit. Like its parent, it produces lustrous, maple-like green leaves, which take on spectacular shades of orange and crimson in the autumn before they fall – especially if they are grown on acidic soils with lots of sun. It will also produce curious, spikey fruits.

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