Death of an American Sweetgum


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.

2 thoughts on “Death of an American Sweetgum”

  1. So sad but geez if that baby fell without notice it would have been catastrophic.

    Our neighbor had a sweet gum (my mom called it a liquid amber tree, a variation on the latin name) and I hated the seed pods. I wouldn’t go out in the side yard til my dad vacuumed them all up. But every fall it was so beautiful. When the old lady died and the farmhouse was demolished to make way for condos I cried.

    We don’t have many sweet gums in the northeast. Maples make up most of the beautiful, seasonal colors.

    Rotting root stock… kind of reminds me of DC

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