Finally, a Reason to Love the Sweet Gum Tree
by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
I’ve always said that if I’d known the trees in my back yard were sweet-gum trees, I would have never bought my house. The previous owner, had carefully picked up every single prickly gum ball from the yard and mulched very carefully so that there was no evidence. When we moved in and saw that 6 of the 10 or so trees in our back yard were sweet gum trees, and that our that our kids would not be able to run in the yard bare feet as I’d imagined, I told myself it would be fine. After all, at least we had trees — a bit of a mini-forest in suburbia, unlike many of our neighbors who had none.
When my kids were 2 and 6, still in that seeking-to-please stage where they relished any job with responsibility, I’d send them out with a bucket from their sand toys and tell them to bring me back as many prickly balls as they could find. Later, when they were no longer enamored with the task, I offered them a nickel for each one. And finally, we resorted to the family raking them on a regular basis, and using our now-8-year-old boy to stomp them down, standing in the trashcan like a human tamper.
So when I walked into the Butterflies LIVE! exhibit yesterday and saw a new display case filled with sweet gum branches, my jaw dropped. What where they doing in here? And then I saw it….the most beautiful lime-green caterpillars ever! They were climbing all, eating the leaves. Turns out, Luna moths use the sweet gum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) as a host plant. It’s not the only tree the caterpillars will eat, but it’s one found commonly here in the Richmond area.
The timing of the addition of the luna moths to our Butterflies LIVE! exhibit is perfect too. Did you know that this week is National Moth Week? It is! Look for some surprise appearances of other moths in the near future too. Be sure to tune into the Garden’s Facebook page — we’ll let you know when these guys transform into beautiful Luna moths.
And finally, after 8 years of living in my house, I have a reason to be grateful or the sweet gum trees in my back yard. Also, me and my kids have something else to look for in my backyard besides those prickly gum balls!