Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sweetgum Trees

We have lots of sweetgum trees on our street, and we even have one in our yard, right next to the driveway.  Mom mostly hates these trees because she is always stepping on the sweetgum balls and turning her ankle.  Mom wishes she knew who thought it would be a good idea to plant sweetgum trees all along our street because she would like to personally strangle this person.

I am not quite as anti-sweetgum as Mom is, so I did some research, and I am going to tell you both the good and the bad things about these trees.  Then you can decide for yourself what to think.

The fancy scientific name for the American Sweetgum tree is Liquidambar styraciflua.  The reason for this name is that the sap of the tree supposedly looks like liquid amber.  I have never seen the sap, so I cannot tell you if it looks like amber or not.  Here are some other names for the sweetgum tree:  red gum, star-leafed gum, gum tree, and alligator wood.  It grows in a shape that makes a point at the top, and it can get pretty tall, like 75 feet, which is about the same height as 4-1/2 giraffes stacked on top of each other.

The bark of the sweetgum tree has ridges in it, so that's why some people think it looks like an alligator.  Also sweetgums like to live in swamps and so do alligators.  I am glad we don't have any alligators here in Missouri because an alligator could eat a basenji in about two bites!

But getting back to sweetgum trees, the wood can be used to make furniture and floors and stuff like that, but it's not good to use on the outside of a house because it might rot, and then the house would fall down.  The emperors in Mexico used to mix the sap with tobacco and smoke it.  And you can also use the sap as chewing gum if you can't find any gum to buy at your local store.

Here are some good things about sweetgum trees:

1.  They have leaves that are shaped sort of like stars.  Most of the leaves have 5 points on them, but I have seen a few with 7 points.  Mom says that odd numbers are more artistic than even numbers, so I guess this means that sweetgum trees are very artistic.

2.  There are lots of leaves on a sweetgum tree, so if you are looking for some nice shade on a hot day, you can find it under a sweetgum tree.

3.  In the fall, the leaves turn all sorts of colors such as yellow, orange, red, and purple, so they are very pretty to look at.

4.  Birds like to eat the little black seeds that fall out of the sweetgum balls.

5.  Sweetgums grow in lots of places, and they don't get bugs or diseases.

6.  You can use sweetgum balls for art projects.

Now I will tell you some bad things about sweetgum trees:

1.  Those seed ball things are prickly, and they hurt your feet if you walk on them.

2.  The seed balls also roll when you step on them, and you can sprain your ankle or even fall down, both of which Mom has done more than once.

3.  The seed balls keep falling off the tree all year long, so it's always dangerous to walk under it, and also you have to rake up several bags full of balls.

4.  All those leaves that make the tree so pretty fall off and have to be raked up along with the icky balls.  And lots of the leaves wait a long time before they fall off, so you can't rake them up until really late in the autumn.

5.  The roots of sweetgum trees get really big sometimes and they push the sidewalk up and then you can trip over the sidewalk and fall down.

6.  Squirrels don't like the seeds much, so sweetgums don't make squirrels want to come live in your yard the way that oak trees do.

Well, these are all the facts, good and bad, that I learned about these trees.  And what I also learned was that there is a type of sweetgum tree that you can buy now that doesn't make any balls.  This would be the best kind of sweetgum to have, in my opinion.  So if you want to run out and buy a sweetgum tree of your very own, I recommend you buy the ball-less kind.  And by the way, I will just mention that all three of my brothers are also ball-less, but that's a different story!


  1. Hello! After an afternoon of raking and cleaning up these seeds I decided to mention them in a blog post and when pasting in my own pics I found your pictures and interesting article. So, I hope you will enjoy visiting my blog and seeing yours referenced there!
    Greetings from Sacramento, CA at this time, but usually from Astorga, Spain.

    1. ¡Hola, Mary!
      I went to your blog, The Freckled Philologist, but I only saw turkeys and not sweetgum balls. Maybe I went to the wrong place. Anyway, I am glad you liked my blog entry about these annoying trees. I think it must be fun for you to live in Spain. My mom lived in Mexico City for a year, but that was a long time ago, and since then, she has forgotten a lot about how to speak Spanish!
      Your friend, Piper

  2. Hi, I guess I am crazy but I love my sweetgum trees, have had them for 22 years and love the shade they produce and the crafts I make with the balls. Love to see the amount of birds that are in my yard eating the seeds. You never have to remember to feed the birds they love the seeds from the sweetgum balls. Also, the squirrels do chew on the sweetgum balls because their teeth grow fast. We have just moved to Deland, Fla. and I am trying to get some sweetgums started here. I have shade trees, but I just love the sweetgums even with the ankle twisting.

    1. Dear Anonymous,
      I showed your comment to my mom, and she had to admit that you made some good points about the advantages of having sweetgum trees around. She says she still hates raking up all those balls in the spring, though. And she still hates slipping on the balls and falling down!
      Sincerely, Piper