Thursday, October 17, 2013

Gum Trees

Young gum trees near my house
 I have been having an interesting conversation with Sue, down in Australia,  about gum trees.

We both have lots of gum trees, but our gum trees seem to be nothing alike! 

My sweet gum trees are Liquidambar styraciflua. 

They get very tall, usually 50-60 feet (20 meters) in my neighborhood, but up to 150 feet (50 meters) in the wild.

This is all one branch
I love them for their beautiful fall colors: most trees here turn yellow, but sweet gums turn every color, all at the same time, often on the same leaf!

Gum balls!
They also have interesting seed balls which we call gum balls (although you wouldn't want to chew them!).

The fun part about the seed balls is that, when they dry out, you can shake them and the seeds fly all over the place. 

Also, we like to paint the seed pods gold or silver and put them on our Christmas tree.  Their spiky form makes them look like stars.

We do not have gum trees where I grew up - they are a coastal southern tree.  When I moved here, and asked about them, I was told that they were called "gum trees" because the native people chewed the sap (like gum). That turns out to be true.  It is still used today as an ingredient in chewing gum, and, it smells so good, it's also used in perfumes!

I was also told that there was a "sour gum," although they weren't sure how to tell the difference.  I presumed that meant the trees looked very similar, but it turns out they don't!  The sour gums are tupelo trees.


Sue Elvis said...


Thank you so much for posting these photos. We have these trees as well! We just don't call them gum trees. We know them by the name liquidamber. I guess we'd get confused if we called them by your name having other trees we know as gum trees. I didn't know about the gum. I don't think these are native trees for us.

The photos are beautiful!

Wendy said...

Wow! How funny is that?! Sometimes the twigs grow extra bark that looks like alligator skin, so some people further south call it "alligator wood." Maybe it could be crocodile wood for you! ;) I don't know, do you have crocodiles where you are? We are too far north for alligators.

Sue Elvis said...

Wendy, we don't have crocodiles where we live, but there are some in northern Australia. Of course we have them in our wildlife parks!