November 1, 2020
Letter from a Sweetgum Tree

by Mary Reid Barrow


Dear Human Friends: 

 I know we  sweetgum trees don’t get  much respect from you, because  our gumballs  fall in autumn and make a mess  of your lawn.

But gumballs and other “trash”, as you call it, that drop from trees are a small price to pay for all we trees do for you humans.

 Just take a walk along the Long Creek Trail at First Landing State Park, like tree hugging LRNow and a group did last Saturday.  And you’ll see how strong and persevering we trees are.

 Along that trail, you will see two of my brothers that crashed across the trail  many years ago and still live today, even as they have been lying prone for decades on the forest floor!

 These guys’ branches are growing upright.  muscular and strong, reaching for the sunlight  Their roots,  still attached on  the ground side,  continue to siphon nutrients up to the branches.  In certain areas, new roots have even grown from the sides of the trunk!


One of my comrades is almost hollow but its outer ring and bark still lives,  feeding and protecting him.


 You humans might say my two bros are the comeback kids if ever there were any, but in the tree world all of us just keep living out our lives,  no matter what happens to us.  You see, we trees are  tough and don’t complain.

 If the ground gets too wet, and I topple over, I’d live lying down.   If a  hurricane comes and splits my crown open, I would happily grow gnarly and crooked.   If the river erodes the bank where I live, I would hang on  for dear life with my bare roots. 

 All the while, I would slow flooding by holding your soil in place and sucking up tons of water,  I would take in carbon dioxide and send out oxygen for you to breathe and if I start to fail, I  would continue to provide lodging and food for birds, and other critters, as I slowly die and rot into mulch for the forest.

 My gumballs (or too many leaves, or nuts that my cousins drop in the fall)  are a small price to pay for all we sweetgums and other trees do for you.

 Right now, enjoy my beautiful fall color. I’m one of the prettiest trees in the forest in autumn and I don’t mind saying so myself.  My star-shaped leaves are a rainbow of colors—red, yellow, purple, orange and gold .



And after my leaves fall, I hang onto many of my gumballs because if think of them as decorative  jewelry on my bare branches.  And you wouldn’t  believe how much the chickadees and other critters love the  seeds they find in almost every crevice of my gumballs. (Hint:  if you don’t like my  gumballs, after they fall, you can  mow them up with your mower and make mulch!)

 If I haven’t convinced you that we trees of all kinds are worthy of your love, whatever phase or stage of life we are in,  attend the premiere of LRNow’s video  “Trees in Place Age With Grace”,  at 6:15 p.m. this  Wednesday (Nov. 4) on  YouTube:

 Do you have a favorite tree or plant with a story to tell?  What relationships have you observed  between plants and critters?  Who eats whom?  Who has babies where?   Send an email to


PEARL HOMES are places where people care about our environment and want to do what they can to help protect our resources.

Learn more»

Lynnhaven River NOW recognizes schools providing outstanding environmental education as a Pearl School.

Learn More»

PEARL BUSINESSES are essential to truly move towards a more sustainable Virginia Beach and cleaner waters.

Learn More »

We all want to do our part to restore the health of all of our sacred waterways and protect them for future generations to enjoy.

Learn More»

SUSTAINABLE YARDS PROGRAM: Let us help you “green” your Lynnhaven watershed home. This unique program provides specific stormwater management practices to your yard at a significantly reduced cost to you.

Learn More»