Friday, November 11, 2011

Folklife Friday: Sweet Gum Balls

Sweet gum trees are plentiful in North Alabama. They are strong, beautiful trees that have many uses. They are loved and hated here because of the seed balls, or sweet gum balls.

Fallen seed balls are difficult to get off the ground, their spikes sometimes half buried. They are too small for most rakes and the lawn mower won't pick them up in the grass clippings. Many people refuse to have the trees in their yards.

If you are young and don't have to worry about keeping the yard clean, then you probably love them.

They were among the first ornaments when we started decorating Christmas trees in Appalachia. They could be dipped in a flour/water mix to look like snowballs (photo is from my friend, Tipper, at They could be wrapped in aluminum foil and hung on the tree. In hard times when aluminum was scarce, people saved their cigarette packs and used the foil inside to wrap the sweet gum balls.

If you wanted to get really fancy, you could dip toothpicks (broken in various lengths) in Elmer's glue and stick it in the ball. When the glue dried, it could be sprayed with white paint or the 'Christmas snow' that came in a can. They could be hung on the tree or piled pyramid style on a plate to form a centerpiece.

It's been several years since I used sweet gum balls in crafts. They are piled up along the roadside where I walk, so I know where to find them if the urge strikes.