51. COMMON SWEETGUM
The Common Sweetgum is a distinctive, showy tree in all 4 seasons. In Winter, you may notice the branching habit and symmetry, and either overhead or underfoot you will encounter the "gumballs" of the Sweetgum. They are the dry, hard, and spiked fruit of the Sweetgum.
EARLY SPRING, BUDS
When Spring is right around the corner you will notice the winter buds (right) suddenly begin to change color and swell (left). This is the first sign of new growth on the Sweetgum each year. Some spiky "gumballs" are still on the tree from the previous summer (left).
Common Sweetgum is a monecious tree (M/F flowers on the same tree) and flower buds open at the same time the leaf buds do. This light green color is both emerging new leaves and the flowers.
There are 3 different male flowers (left). A close-up of the flower (right). The male flowers release large amounts of pollen in the Spring, and then drop off the tree. Pollen dispersion is primarily by wind.
The female flowers of Common Sweetgum are a little harder to pick out - they are green, round flowers that when pollinated will become the spiked fruit the Sweetgum is known for.
After the flowering season, Common Sweetgum gains it summer foliage. The leaves of Sweetgum are star-shaped and unique - easy to ID. Nestled inside the leaves are...
SPIKED FRUIT, "GUMBALL"
Here you see the spiked fruit in Summer (left) and then six months later in Winter. Common Sweetgum does produce a sweet, sticky gum if the bark is cut or injured, and Native Americans did use it as chewing gum. But the spiked fruit is neither sweet or chewy. It breaks up and disperses seeds over a long period of time, and you will often notice them on the ground surrounding Sweetgum trees.
FALL FOLIAGE RAINBOW
One of the most variable and striking of Westmoor's fall trees, the Common Sweetgum often has different colored leaves on the tree at the same time, and can display a rainbow's worth of leaf color in a single fall season.