Oriental Sweetgum

Liquidambar orientalis

This is one of the greatest rarities in the Park. It can be found at the corner of North Carriage Drive and the path leading down to the old aviary near the Pagoda. It was planted underneath a filbert and can easily go unnoticed as it looks so much like a wild Field Maple. However, Alan Mitchell, of Collins Pocket Guide to Trees fame, on a visit to the Park twenty years ago was delighted to discover it, although we have no idea what luminary planted it or when, or why it was planted in such a totally unsuitable place. It can be separated from a Maple by the longer middle lobe on each leaf and its alternate leaf pattern.

Although the “woody cap” fruits are far different from Maple helicopters these are virtually never produced as our summers are just not hot enough. It grows up to 30 metres (100 feet) as a forest tree although there are few places it can still be found in the wild. It is native to Asia minor, found in the famous forests of Melasso, Moughla and Marmorizza. Its main claim to fame is the “liquid amber” or balsamic resin which it exudes when cut. This is fragrant with a hint of bitumen and is called storax. It looks like grey honey.

Most famously it forms the basis of friars balsam, the old fashioned inhalant for bronchial problems.

It is also used in cough pastilles, to scent soap and as a fumigant to deter scabies mites.

Ordinarily the tree is a slow grower. Ours was slow to start but after some judicial pruning of a shading tree it has doubled in size in the last few years.