18th Annual Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest Natural World
Chinese Sweetgum (Liquidambar formosana)

Liquidambar is the sole genus in the sweetgum family, Altingiaceae. Thirteen species are known today; more have been identified in the fossil record. This particular species is found in China, Taiwan, Laos and Vietnam. These trees are often cultivated for their attractive lobed leaves, which turn a glorious red in autumn. The leaves are fed to silkworms to produce a particular kind of silk. Male and female flowers occur separately, but both on a single tree. The female flowers are arranged in groups to form ball-like inflorescences. These develop into fruit heads comprising many fruits fused to each other; they resemble prickly balls like the one in this image. Each individual fruit splits open when ripe to release the winged seeds.

Photo Detail
Date Taken: 02.2020
Date Uploaded: 08.2020
Photo Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Camera: NIKON D850
Copyright: © Levon Biss