Walking a stretch of road through my local patch, I came across an expansive stand of Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua. This common, deciduous tree of the east-southeast grows straight and tall, reaching 100 feet in height, thriving in moist areas.
Their picturesque, star-shaped leaves have long dropped by this time of year, exposing numerous spiky "gumballs" that attract birds, particularly finches in winter.
Gumballs are the fruit of the Sweetgum tree, and each one holds up to 50 small black seeds, a favorite of American Goldfinches, Carolina Chickadees, and Pine Siskins. Their small fine bills adeptly pry open the prickly gumball to get to the food inside.
I marveled at the amazing acrobatics of birds hungrily searching for seeds, often hanging upside and jumping quickly from gumball to gumball. Look for them this winter at your local park or woods - they are great fun to watch!
photo © adrian binns