Sweetgums & Witch-hazels

Intermediate Witch-hazel Sweetgum Sweetgum Sweetgum

What are they?

Sweetgum is a very common North American tree which has a passing resemblance to a maple in the shape of its leaves. Witch-hazels have distinctive, often heavily-scented flowers that appear on bear branches during late fall or winter, making them popular as garden ornamentals.

Where are they found?

Sweetgum is typically found in wet woodland, but smaller plants may also occur in drier, scrubbier habitats. This is also a popular garden plant and is therefore sometimes also found in urban habitats. Witch-hazels are not native to Cape May County and are only likely to be found in human-influenced environments.


Sweetgums are easily identified by their round, spikey seed capsules and maple-like leaves, carried alternately on the stems. Witch-hazels are easily told by their flowers or seed capsules, but may be hard to tell from some other species by their leaves alone.

Sweetgum      Liquidambar styraciflua

A very common tree throughout the county in most habitats though favoring wet woodland. Flowers April to May. A very variable tree, often a medium-sized species but capable of growing to 100' or more in the right conditions. Leaves are similar to those of the maples, but easily told from them by the alternate (not opposite) buds and leaves. Flower structures complex with male flowers carried in upright clusters above the pendulous bundles of female flowers. Seed capsules hang on the tree well into winter.
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Flower clusters
Seed capsule
Fall color

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Winter bud
Corky bark on
young branches
Seed pods prominent in winter

Intermediate Witch-hazel      Hamamelis x intermedia

An ornamental hybrid which originated in cultivation. Planted as an ornamental in roadside landscapings and perhaps looking like established shrubs. Flowers late January to early March. Differs from the native witch-hazel in its orange (not yellow) flowers which open in mid to late winter, not late fall.
Intermediate Witch-hazel Intermediate Witch-hazel Intermediate Witch-hazel Intermediate Witch-hazel
Seed capsules

Intermediate Witch-hazel Intermediate Witch-hazel
Winter bud