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Liquidambar, Liquid Amber

LIQUIDAMBAR, LIQUID AMBER or SWEET GUM, a product of Liquidambar styraciflua (order Hamamelideae), a deciduous tree of from 80 to 140 ft. high, with a straight trunk 4 or 5 ft. in diameter, a native of the United States, Mexico and Central America. It bears palmately-lobed leaves, somewhat resembling those of the maple, but larger. The male and female inflorescences are on different branches of the same tree, the globular heads of fruit resembling those of the plane. This species is nearly allied to L. orientalis, a native of a very restricted portion of the south-west coast of Asia Minor, where it forms forests. The earliest record of the tree appears to be in a Spanish work by F. Hernandez, published in 1651, in which he describes it as a large tree producing a fragrant gum resembling liquid amber, whence the name (Nov. Plant., etc., p. 56). In Ray's Historic, Plantarum (1686) it is called Styrax liquida. It was introduced into Europe in 1681 by John Banister, the missionary collector sent out by Bishop Compton, who planted it in the palace gardens at Fulham. The wood is very compact and fine-grained the heart- wood being reddish, and, when cut into planks, marked transversely with blackish belts. It is employed for veneering in America. Being readily dyed black, it is sometimes used instead of ebony for picture frames, balusters, etc.; but it is too liable to decay for out-door work.

The gum resin yielded by this tree has no special medicinal virtues, being inferior in therapeutic properties to many others of its class. Mixed with tobacco, the gum was used for smoking at the court of the Mexican emperors (Humboldt iv. 10). It has long been used in France as a perfume for gloves, etc. It is mainly produced in Mexico, little being obtained from trees growing in higher latitudes of North America, or in England.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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