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Species Guide
All text and photographs © 1996,1997
Thomas W. Kimmerer

Family: Hamamelidaceae
Genera: HamamelisLiquidambar
The following species are discussed in this guide:
witch-hazel Hamamelis virginiana sweetgum Hamamelis virginiana

Species witch-hazelHamamelis virginiana
Species Name of Virginia
Sites and Soils Mesic sites in ravines, creek banks, on acidic to alkaline soils.
Ecology Witch-hazel is a small understory tree of rich, mesic sites. It is tolerant and slow growing.
Life History Witch-hazel is extraordinary in its flowering habits: it flowers in late October to early December, its slender yellow petals the only signs of color in the dormant woods.
Interactions Pollinators?
Status Common, stable
Range Eastern deciduous forest.
Kentucky status Common, stable
Kentucky range entire state.
Uses witch-hazel obtains its name from the dowsers, or "water witches" who used forked witch-hazel sticks to detect groundwater. Commercial witch-hazel, an astringent liniment, is an alcohol extract of witch hazel bark.
Ornamental use Witch-hazel is a beautiful ornamental for shaded borders and near buildings. It grows best with good soil moisture and moderate shade.
Notes

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Species sweetgumLiquidambar styraciflua
Species Name flowing like storax (a gum from a related tree).
Sites and Soils Sweetgum occurs on a wide range of sites, from riparian forests to dry sands. Best development is in riparian forests on rich alluvial soils.
Ecology Sweetgum is one of the most common and important hardwoods of the South. It is most characteristic, and grows best, in riparian zones and coves. However, its ecological breadth is astonishing, and the species can be found on a wide array of sites, except for the most xeric. Pure stands often form on wet sites and old fields. Old field stands are usually of sprout origin. Sweetgum is a common component of pine forests in the deep south, mixed with oaks elsewhere, and with riparian species.
Life History Sweetgum is a fast-growing intolerant tree. It is a prolific seed producer, and the light seeds are carried considerable distances by wind. Seeds germinate on any site where there is ample moisture. Early growth is very rapid, but the tree often falls behind other species after maturity. Sweetgum stump sprouts and root sprouts, especially after the stem is killed, cut or heavily damaged. Epicormic sprouts are common, perhaps more than on any other forest tree. On excellent sites, the tree becomes very large. Lifespan is 200-400 years. Champion 200'x6'; typical 100'x3-4'.
Interactions VA mycorrhizal;
Status Abundant; decreased by conversion of bottomlands to farms, but increased by abandonment of farmlands, so populations presumably increasing in the last 30 years.
Range Southern part of Eastern Deciduous forest, but not in the Appalachian highlands or the E. slope of the Appalachians
Kentucky status Abundant; stable
Kentucky range entire state; less common on Cumberland Plateau
Uses Sweetgum is a very important commercial species. It is used as veneer for plywood cores, in MDF, OSB and other composite products, and as a pulp source. Sweetgum is increasingly important for pulp production. Ornamental.
Ornamental use Sweetgum is a marvelous ornamental, stately of form and magnificent of fall color. It grows well on a variety of soils, included compacted clay. It is best suited to large sites, such as parks. Sweetgum has gotten a bad rap because it is considered "trashy," dropping lots of fruit and branches. This seems a small price to pay for such a lovely tree. The fruits, far from being a nuisance, are important implements in the play of children.
Notes One of only two species in this genus, the other occuring in China.

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