Sweetgum trees are bountiful in North Carolina. On a recent trip to the park with Axl, Bug and I spotted one. It hadn’t leafed out yet, but I knew it was a sweetgum from all the gumballs littering the ground.
Sweetgums are gorgeous trees. During the summer, the leaves glow a shiny green, and the tree produces clusters of spiky green fruit that attract birds and squirrels.
In the fall, the leaves turn bright red to deep purple like the maple. When the leaves drop off, the dried fruit falls to the ground too. The barbed brown gumballs are worse than legos for bare feet.
Some people use the prickly pods in Christmas decorations. I’ve seen them on Christmas trees and wreaths. It’s a lot prettier than you might think.
Growing up, Ebie and I used the spiked balls as rupees during make-believe games of Zelda.
As teenagers, my cousins and I had vicious games of war. We used everything from pinecones to gumballs as ammo. Every once in a while, my older cousin, Keith, would go all out. He’d dress in camo and pick Ebie and me off one by one from the tree tops.
It’s funny how getting whipped in the face with a sharp fruit hull can become a treasured memory. Makes me wonder if kids still play war today?
How about you? Did you use gumballs to fight epic battles in the backyard too?