When Do Sweet Gum Trees Drop Balls?
Native across much of eastern North America, the sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) produces hundreds of golf ball-sized seed pods or capsules annually. Orange-brown and with sharp, short spines, they litter lawns and sidewalks, making a nuisance and potential safety hazard.
Heaviest drop of sweetgum balls occurs from mid to late fall. The foliage drops and reveals a tree silhouette with seed balls still dangling. Over the fall and winter, they progressively drop and by early spring the branches are bare and reveal the new leaf growth.
The dry, hard and tough fibers in the seed balls are slow to decompose. If littering a lawn, they become projectiles from a lawnmower chute and are not comfortable to encounter barefoot.
Botanically, the sweetgum's balls are spheres of fused capsules. Colloquially, Americans dub them sticky balls, itchy balls, monkey balls, space bugs, gum balls and ankle twisters.
Jacob J. Wright became a full-time writer in 2008, with articles appearing on various websites. He has worked professionally at gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Wright holds a graduate diploma in environmental horticulture from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware.