Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Foliage Friday: Sweet Gum Tree

Palmate leaves of the Sweet Gum tree
Is this tree disappearing?  I hope not.  It seems like they were everywhere when I was a kid.  I can't recall seeing one planted in someone's yard, not for the longest time.

The drawback:  immature fruit is already spiky!
The Sweet Gum Tree is native to the warmer sections of the United States and is one of our most common hardwood trees.  North of here, it's beloved for its vivid fall color, and noted for its spiny fruit.  You don't ever want to step on a dried sweet gum ball barefooted!  Yes, it's true that the fruits can litter your yard in the fall, and the limbs sometimes break in high wind, but it's a fast-growing shade tree with a pretty, distinctive leaf.  The five-fingered foliage is much more "pronounced" than that of the maple tree, if you know what I mean.

Bark -- see the tiny holes?

Birds of all kinds like the seeds contained in the mace-shaped fruit, but one bird goes out of his way to drink the golden sap:  the yellow-bellied sapsucker.  He drills neat rows of little holes and returns time and again to the same tree for nourishment.  Other creatures, once the hard work of drilling is done, are also attracted to the sap.  You may see butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds drinking the sap of the sweet gum tree.  Of course, the sapsuckers will actively defend their dinner table!

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  Photo: Patrick Coin

I thought this was interesting:  the Sweet Gum tree was one of the first trees introduced to England from the New World.  Missionary and plant collector John Bannister brought it to England in 1681, where it was greatly admired for its fall color.  Before New World trees arrived, fall color was scarce indeed.


  1. Absolutely one of my all-time favorite trees! Particularly after moving to Houston and realizing it was one of the only trees with bright fall colors is the area (won't count the dreaded -but pretty- tallow tree.)
    Funny you should mention it today, because Connor made us stop in front of his doctor's building yesterday so he could collect the balls. They have nothing but LARGE, mature Sweet Gum trees in their landscape. Nice!

  2. This is a beautiful tree... one I haven't seen much of either. The leaves are especially endearing.

  3. I adore these trees, they are all over Portland, but sadly, a lot of people really hate the seedpods...I think they are beautiful. My partner's mother cut hers down this summer. I argued with them for weeks about it, but in the end, it's her house and I lost. Every time we go over now, her house looks so sad without that lovely tree in front of it :-(