Nature’s Gum Balls: Discovering the World Around Us

All of November and December, Ms. Jeannie was waiting for this one particular tree in her yard to drop its seed pods…

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gum2

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They have these wonderful round pods that  Ms. Jeannie thought would look fabulous strung together in garlands for her mantel, on her Christmas tree as part of her natural ornaments and maybe on a wreath for her front door. This is what the pods look like up close…

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They sort of reminded Ms. Jeannie of stars, especially when she was looking up at them hanging so high in the trees!  Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas, because these little stars didn’t fall until just two days ago, long past holiday time.

Now there are hundreds upon hundreds covering the ground. Ms. Jeannie could have made a million miles worth of garland!

Curious as to what type of tree these little beauties belonged to, Ms. Jeannie did some research and as it turns out, they are from the Sweet Gum tree, which is indiginous to North America, Mexico and Central America.  The gum tree has been around since pre-historic times and is actually classified as a living fossil. It is one of the oldest recorded trees in history.  Goodness gracious.

Ms. Jeannie found this information fascinating because the shape of the pods reminded her of some other-wordly items like the spiked wrecking ball weapons from the Middle Ages…

Ironically, you can buy these on ebay for $20.00!

Ironically, you can buy these on ebay for $20.00!

Or those crazy underwater sea urchins…

Sea Urchin from the Getty Collection

Sea Urchin from the Getty Collection

The sweet gum pods (or gum balls, as they were nicknamed)  are actually known as the tree’s fruit and contain one to two seeds within each pod.  The trees can grow up to to 120′ feet tall and the leaves turn beautiful colors in the fall. Ms. Jeannie estimates her tree to be about 80′ feet and is indeed one of the tallest in her yard.

Here is an example of a sweet gum in the summer…

Sweet Gum tree photo courtesy of scstrees.com

Sweet Gum tree photo courtesy of scstrees.com

and in the Autumn…

Sweet Gum in Fall photo courtesy of flickr.com

Sweet Gums in Fall photo courtesy of flickr.com

This species of tree was first recorded by Spanish naturalist, Francisco Hernandez de Toledo in the 1500’s.

Spanish naturalist and physician Francisco Hernandez de Toledo (1514-1587).

Spanish naturalist and physician Francisco Hernandez de Toledo (1514-1587).

Francisco was the court physician to the King of Spain and in 1570 was sent to the New World on a botany trip  specifically to study medicinal plants. In his journals, he noted the sweet gum tree bark as having a fragrant juice resembling liquid amber.  Indeed, this liquid amber is where the tree got its name. Native Americans taught pioneers in America how to peel the resin  from the bark and chew it  in order to quench thirst, thus making it one of the first chewing gums in America.

The sweet gum tree was introduced in Europe in the 1600’s, planted in the gardens at Fulham Palace in London by way of Reverend botanist John Bannister, who had traveled to Virginia to bring back exotic tree cuttings like the magnolia, black walnut and cork oak among others – all of which are still represented in the palace gardens today.

The gardens at Fulham Palace, London. Photo courtesy of geograph.org

The gardens at Fulham Palace, London. Photo courtesy of geograph.org

Throughout history the resin found in the gum tree has been used homeopathically  to heal a host of ailments from skin conditions to bronchial infections.  Likewise, it’s wood has been used commercially in the manufacture of low-grade hardwood products, plywood, crates, furniture and as an ebony wood alternative.

Ms. Jeannie had no idea, her tree was so useful! Now having learned all this , she is going to go out with a plastic bin and collect all the gumballs so she will be sure to have enough for her 2013 holiday crafts…

Place Cards

Place Cards

Holiday wreath lightly spray painted white makes it look frosty!

Holiday wreath lightly spray painted white makes it look frosty!

Garland!

Garland!

Ms. Jeannie pinned these pictures above to her Historic Holiday board on pinterest, plus a few others. Stop by and see them here.  She can’t help but think that these would be lovely spring wedding decorations for table decor or used in bridal bouquets – especially if you were having a spring outdoor wedding.  These sweet gums are full of rustic charm and potential!

If you have any creative ideas about other ways Ms. Jeannie can use the little beauties, please send a message!

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Nature’s Gum Balls: Discovering the World Around Us

  1. As usual Miss Jeanie your stories are wonderful and full of great info, I wish I had a gum ball tree near to where I live here in Scotland (Uk), I’ll do a wee bit of my own research ! Many thanks for another great read. Mary

    Like

  2. Pingback: An Otter 100! | msjeannieology

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