This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
A celebrated writer has lately issued a work to show who was, or who was not, he writer of the world-famed "Letters of Junius;" I wish some one equally anxious o display the acuteness of their logical powers would undertake to show us whether he ancient Job was, or was not, a gardener or arboriculturist. In the absence of all oositive proof to the contrary, I venture to offer a presumptive one that he was not: le never could have sustained his patience under the numerous tempting circum-itances which crowd on the gardener. Or, had he the heart of an arboriculturist, he could not have stood unmoved when told " that his Elms were smitten with grubs and borers; his Lindens bore wreaths and festoons of insects, and were rotten at the ground; his Ailantus had become the pests of his country; and his Maples the good of drop-worms and aphides." Job could not have been a gardener, and it is well he was not, or he would have lost his character and the world its model; and we have gained him as a precedent in the inquiry, " how to stop this plague:" for trees are essential to our existence. If one kind wont do, we must find a substitute.
I am going to propose that we introduce a new shade tree ! Start not, good reader, the " vast and lofty" Himalaya's have not been ransacked to present you with another "curious and rare" specimen of abstract beauty; nor has China or Japan been made to lay before you another object of a nine days wonder. Our subject has no claims of kindred with either the " Tree of Heaven" or the "Deodar;" but is one "to the manor born," in which you all, either by birth or adoption, claim an inheritance. But its country must not depreciate its value. It is American ! It is Liquidamber styraciflua, Lin., better known as the Sweet Gum. But the Sweet Gum I allude to is not the " Sweet Gum" as we find it in densely crowded woods, with its stem as slender and as straight as a stud-sail boom; nor the "Sweet Gum" as we frequently see it in damp, half swampy places, with shoots as weak and delicate as a card-basket osier; but the Sweet Gum sometimes seen growing by itself, unsurrounded by other trees, and with its roots free to extend themselves unchecked in a cool, deep, and rich loam.
In such situations it has not, perhaps, the rural grandeur of the Oak, or the graceful elegance of a Weeping Willow - not, probably, the stiff, majestic foliage of the Magnolias, or the lightness and ease of the " gentle" Birch; but yet a claim to picturesque and simple beauty which no other can eclipse, beside combining many other traits of interest separate in other trees. It is a very rapid grower, will attain a height of eighty feet, and a circumference of seven, under favorable circumstances, and has a widely spreading, roundish, conical head. The branches have a rigid, though much divaricating mode of growth, and are covered with that corky-barked appearance so much sought after and admired in some varieties of Elms, Maples, and Nettle trees. The leaves and fruit resemble the But-tonwood in all except size and hue, and there is, indeed, a sort of distant relationship between the two families. The leaves are not one-third the size of the Button-wood, deeply lobed- star-like, and produced in abundance. (See annexed figure.) The upper surface shines as if varnished; and as the foliage moves with the slightest summer breezes, gives the tree a playful and pleasing character in its frequent successions of light and shade.
This pleasing character of the foliage is heightened at the approach of fall by its brilliant colors. It has no compeer in this character. The leaves change to every describable shade of orange, yellow, and red.
But beautiful as the tree really is, I would not recommend it as a shade tree solely on that account. It abounds with a resinous principle apparently obnoxious to insects. Extended observation has led me to believe that not a species attacks it This property alone is worth "a plum" to the planter.
Having stated its merits as a faithful historian, I must narrate its short-comings. I do not believe it is adapted to a great diversity of soil, or to a high northern latitude. In poor, dry soils, it is of slow growth and short duration; and it may not probably do well in the dry and confined air of a densely built city; but what does well in such extremes?
It is easily propagated. Seed should be sown as soon as ripe, or early in the spring, in a loose, loamy soil, somewhat shaded. Plants will appear in a few weeks in the spring, and grow over a foot the first season. The seed vessels do not ripen till late in the fall, but should be gathered before the first severe frost, which is apt to split open the capsules and suffer the seed to escape.
It is singular that so handsome and useful a tree should be so long neglected ; and the only explanation probably is, that it did not come to us with a recommendation from some one of " the ends of the earth".
[We thank Mr. MEehan heartily for refreshing the memory of arboriculturists and Some fifteen or sixten years ago we can recollect there was a very considerable demand for it; but latterly it has been overlooked and neglected, while often trees possessing not a hundredth part of its merits have been planted by the thousand. It is a tree that arrests the attention of even common observers at all seasons, - in summer, its starry, shining, tremulous foliage - in autumn, its gorgeous hues - and in winter, its peculiarly furrowed bark. There is, moreover, but the one species of the genus in North America. According to our experience,' the seeds generally lie a year in the ground before growing. Loudon says: " In America, several insects feed upon the leaves, among which we may mention the Green Swallow-tailed Emperor Moth (Phalcena luna), and the Great Plane Moth (P. imperatoria)." "We have no knowledge of this beyond this statement, and we are inclined to think it almost, if not entirely, exempt from the attacks of insects, especially in the Northern States. - Ed].