The American Sweetgum is a large tree with the potential to grow over 80 feet in height. The trunk has light gray, thick, rough, corklike bark, with long, narrow, rounded ridges and deep, narrow valleys. The twigs and leaves release a distinct, pleasant odor when crushed or broken. Their leaves have a distinctive five-pointed star shape, with deep V-shaped sinuses and long pointed lobes. The fall leaf color varies from yellow to a deep purplish red. The fruit capsules are usually about the size of a golf ball and look like starbursts on a stem.
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