Oh Prickly Ball thou art truly prickly!

It wasn’t until much later in life that I came across these prickly ball trees.  In the backyard of my youth, my tree climbing with abandon days, we had mulberry trees and a huge sycamore tree.  Every year the sycamore tree would put out these seed pods that when you pulled at them or smacked them against something they would burst into a cloud of fuzzy brown seeds.  Boring activity which kept us kids occupied for all of a hot minute.  Maple trees were fun because each spring when they would decide it was time to perpetuate the species, they would burst forth with all of these green seed pods that whirled about in the wind.  We called them whirligig seeds.  Botanists we weren’t!

They were fun as heck to play with because you could grab handful’s of them and toss them in the air to watch them spin and twirl in the wind.  At one time the offspring when young actually planted a few and I believe they did grow to teeny tiny little trees.  Alas, somebody ran them over with the lawnmower.  The first time I ran into the prickly ball trees was when son entered kindergarten and his new school had several of the trees in the front of the building.  Each fall the kids would be led out by their teacher to gather the “prickly balls” and use them to make arts and crafts to take home.  The best one was a little Christmas tree made entirely of prickly balls and decorated with glue and sparkles.

I’ve heard tales from other readers (you guys know who you are!) about doing naughty things to siblings with the prickly balls when they were kids.  I think son child even chucked a few at other kids after school playfully and probably his sister.  Eh, that’s what siblings are for.  Now the things are just a nuisance if they happen to be in your yard and you are the one who must rake them up and dispose of them.  But one time they were fun.

At my recent photo outing I took these shots of the seed pods of a sweet gum tree.  Wonder why they are called that?

Color adjusted to sepia.  Gives it more of a wintery effect.

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  1. #1 by kathryningrid on January 10, 2012 - 5:52 pm

    I love those sweet gum pods! They look just like little retro constructs of spaceships or at least satellites. Good shots of them!

    Guess I’ll have to look up the etymology of the tree’s name, ’cause I certainly don’t know. Bet my friend Steve will know, being both a first-class plantsman *and* an educated etymologist. http://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/

    • #2 by imagesbytdashfield on January 11, 2012 - 8:42 am

      I think they look like the sea urchins of trees. Touch and you are going to get such an owie! Thanks for the link to your friend, looks like good reading and learning to be had.

  2. #3 by ChgoJohn on January 10, 2012 - 7:03 pm

    I don’t recall sycamore or sweet gum trees being around when I was young. (No, I don’t pre-date them or any tree species, thank you very much!) We had cottonwood trees, the floating seeds of which we called “Santa’s Whiskers.” Catch one, make a wish, and send it off on a breeze to return to the North Pole. Instead of the sweet gum tree’s prickly balls, we had a few chestnut trees. Being horse chestnuts, none were edible but, man, they sure did hurt if you got smacked by one. Thanks for the trip down a tree-lined Memory Lane.

    • #4 by imagesbytdashfield on January 11, 2012 - 8:44 am

      I was never going to think such an ageist thing! So cool to find out that kids all over had their own names for floating tree seeds and liked smacking each other with some of them. :)

  3. #5 by ceciliag on January 11, 2012 - 9:45 am

    I am so not surprised that you spent so much time as a kid, up in a tree,. You refer to your tree days often.. i love it!! c

    • #6 by imagesbytdashfield on January 11, 2012 - 10:00 am

      What can I say! I was a tomboy and being minus a tree house, a tree was the place to go and hang out – sometimes literally :) t

  4. #7 by Steve on January 11, 2012 - 5:07 pm

    Looks like you’re having a lot of fun with your photography! Keep up the great images!!

    • #8 by imagesbytdashfield on January 11, 2012 - 5:12 pm

      Thank you! Sometimes I have to remind myself to have fun or I will just walk off in a frustrated huff.

  5. #9 by dhphotosite on January 12, 2012 - 8:54 am

    Thanks for the trip down or rather up the trees! We spent most of our time as kids climbing the oak tree in the front yard. I our Mom couldn’t find us, all she had to do was come out front and look up. We used to call the maple tree seeds helicopters. Nice photos too!!!

    • #10 by imagesbytdashfield on January 12, 2012 - 2:16 pm

      Oh yeah! I recall some kids calling those seeds helicopters too! :) Having a tree to climb in was so much more fun than what kids do now (did I just make an old persons comment?) not to mention our moms had to get us to come IN the house instead of shoving us out.

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