Back when our girls were in Junior High School, they were required to do leaf collections. When I was their age, it was a bug collection that our science teacher wanted and no one was more excited than I was when I found a Buffalo Treehopper (Stictocephala bisonia). What a cool bug! I found it in our neighbor's huge garden. In fact, I found most of my collection there.
I never had to do the leaf collection, so it was kind of fun, running the girls all over kingdom come, trying to find all the different ones on their list. A park in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, went a long way towards helping Jenna find hers. She had a tryout for a travel softball team at Harrison Smith Park, where they have many of their trees labeled.
During the course of her leaf collection, I was the one who fell in love with various trees and their leaf shapes, and made a list of those that I wanted to acquire - Ginkgo, Tulip Poplar, and Sweet Gum. The Sweet Gum (Liquidambar sp.) was the first to put roots down here at Our Little Acre. It was about about four feet tall when we planted it and the next few years saw little growth. It appeared to be merely existing and finally, one summer the leaves just dried up and fell off, so due to its myriad of past problems, we figured the tree had died.
Romie tried to dig it up, but it had too many roots and it wasn't going to be easy, so he decided to just cut it off low on the trunk and get to the rest of it sometime later. Well, you know how that goes. I don't remember how much later it was - maybe even the next spring - but when he did get back to it, he called me over to have a look. That tree had started growing from below where he'd cut it!
We decided to let it go and see what it would do and what it has done over the last few years is grow into a nice tree. It's much nicer than it ever was before it was cut. The leaves aren't deformed, the bark looks normal, and it has grown several inches every year. It turns a beautiful red color in the fall.
As long as you don't look closely at its feet, you'd never know it had such a struggling start. If you do look closely, you'll see fall-blooming crocus coming up at its base. Maybe someday we'll have some spiny fruit from the Sweet Gum lying there.
The fruit of the Sweet Gum, which I call gumballs, is one of the fascinating things about the tree, although I've heard many people grumble about them. They're round and spiny and turn brown when they're ready to fall off the tree. There is a species of Liquidambar that doesn't produce fruit, however, and we may have one of those. Since Sweet Gum trees don't produce fruit until they're 20-30 years old, it will be some time before we know what we have.
Photo of Buffalo Treehopper from Wikimedia Commons.
Photo of Sweet Gum fruit from Missouri State University.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008