Bane of landscapers and kids on skateboards, profligate dropper of spiked gum balls, giver of rare autumnal colors in Los Angeles, in-gatherer of finches who feed off its seeds, the sweetgum trees are quietly dying out in my corner of Van Nuys.
According to the Lazy Landscaper, those “hard, brown, spiky balls can create some serious hazards. Not only can they wound you if you slip and fall into them, they can also roll unexpectedly, causing sprained ankles.” Because of their spiky nature, they are difficult to rake up. And don’t try to run your lawnmower over them, as “when airborne they are as dangerous as grenades.”
With their alligator bark and massive height we think of them as indestructible and forever with us, yielding a sublime exodus of yellow, then purple, then red leaves, natures way of gracefully tripping down a staircase, to land on the wet asphalt after a heavy winter rain.
We think of the foliage. We don’t think of the trunk, the rootstock quietly rotting from within, until it falls of its own weight.