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collage of American Sweetgum and Castor-Aralia

American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) vs. Castor-Aralia (Kalopanax septemlobus)

Updated November 6th, 2023

These species are sometimes confused, as both have 5-7 lobed leaves with finely-serrated margins, both prefer moist sites, and mature trees of both species have bark with deep ridges and furrows. They are easily distinguished by the castor-aralia's thorns and sparse branching, or by flowers or fruit, and they can also be distinguished by leaf size and shape. Although both plants can occur in landscaping, there is little habitat overlap in the wild: sweetgum ranges farther south and better tolerates nutrient-poor, acidic, and/or poorly-drained soils, whereas castor-aralia ranges farther north, tolerates greater shade, and is more limited to sites with deep, fertile soils.

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