The genus and species terms for the sweet gum ball tree is Liquidambar styraciflua, also known as the American Sweetgum, because it is native to North America. Yale University has a Nature Walk website that gives a plethora of information about this beautiful tree. According to the site, “The sweetgum is a fast-growing tree that develops a significant taproot that tolerates high moisture levels in soil. It is used for its lumber, and is one of the most common sources of hardwood and plywood, but also produces spectacular colors as it drops its leaves in the fall.”
The first part of the name means “liquid amber” and the second part refers to styrax balsam. This is the “resin produced by the sweetgum that can be chewed for medicinal and recreational purposes.” Interestingly, the term “sweet gum ball” was first discovered in the diary of a Spanish conquistador. The diary was dated 1519 when he described observing Native Americans using the liquid amber resin during a ceremony. The natives would also use the resin for dental hygiene and to treat certain medical conditions.
The true origin of the name “sweet gum ball” comes from the bark of the tree. American pioneers would scrape the sweet tasting substance from the tree bark and chew it like gum, thus the spiky, round seeds were called sweet gum balls. “…another resin derivative from the tree is used in fragrances, pharmaceuticals, soaps, and natural medicines.”
The American Sweetgum is often planted for it’s beauty and the shade it provides. The seeds can sometimes become a nuisance, which is why Bag-A-Nut created fun, fast, and efficient models for picking them up!
Check out Bag-A-Nut’s line of Sweet Gum Ball Harvesters
Yale Nature Walk