Friday, March 6, 2009

Sweetgum Tree

Isn't it strange how we love the unnatural and the things that make our lives more exotic? We love those things that are the prettiest as well those things that are the most comfortable to us. Now what has those statements got to do with the Sweetgum tree?

I recall a related statement from a neighbor once when she cut down all the natural vegetation in her yard. Who needs Yaupon, pine trees, Sweetgums, and other native plants or trees? All of this is soooo blah, "I need a theme in my yard!" So she made it tropical! Banana trees and palms. Perfect for an east Texas forest? There was no food for the birds in her yard. Somehow, maybe she may have not even realized there were birds out there. It was as unnatural as she could possibly make it. The theme went with her swimming pool. Let's make this a paradise on the sea shore. We'll pretend. She moved away and now we live with her carnage.

Now you get my gist. I had someone recently say "I hate Sweetgum trees". This tree is very common here in our forests. Like other native species, there is a reason for it being here. I don't like walking barefooted and stepping on the Sweetgum pods any more than the "hater" of the tree. When green, the spiny pods are not so irritating but after drying, they fall to the ground for months afterward, and their spines are needle sharp and hard. This tree is considered to be ornamental. It grows well in marshes such as we have in abundance here in The Woodlands. A tree 100 feet tall is not rare. These trees will help form the highest canopy over the forest right with the Long Leaf pines, some 150 feet! Taken out of the forest canopy, their roots more exposed to the sun, they have a difficult time during drought periods. Myself? I encourage this tree to be cultivated and planted with the pines, especially in wet locations. I have several thriving in my yard, one from a seedling. I love diversity. This tree adds so much life to our forests! It is one of the reasons we are called "The Woodlands".

This tree is regarded as an ornamental for several reasons. In the fall, they are quite colorful. See my fall leaf display. In the early summer, the star shaped leaves are quite showy. Right now, in the early Spring? This is the reason I am publishing this article. This tree often gets overlooked. You will see little green "things" all over the ground near this tree right now. If you look closely, you will see what I saw through this photograph - an early blooming tree, showing how it creates its spiny pods. There are even colors in its unusual and ornate blooms on the ends of the tree branches.

As implied by the name, the tree bark has been used extensively for chewing gum by native Indians and settlers. The pods have been used for medicinal purposes and by the way, make a great Christmas tree ornament. Its wood is used for building structures. Let's tolerate that which we don't like and find reasons to live in harmony with nature. This tree demands and deserves our respect. Issues with the water table here in The Woodlands will eventually eliminate most of these trees in my opinion. Combined with drought, tree removal and the landscape engineering of the environment by man, our forest is bound to change to something much less interesting than what evolved or was created here over the ages.

Texas Game and Wildlife article quoting IndianSpringsGuy (Randy Scott)

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