Sweetgum trees are messy.
I probably wouldn't have identified a winter-bare sweetgum tree on a street corner today, if it hadn't been for the seedballs. The lawn and sidewalk beneath the tree's wide canopy were covered with them. Car tires had thrown many more seedballs against a concrete median in the street (photo above).
Sweetgum balls are woody, so they don't disintegrate quickly. A homeowner who wants a well-groomed lawn will need to rake up the prickly seedballs. They fall throughout winter, so they might have to be raked several times. Any seedballs left in the grass will be an unpleasant surprise for summer's barefoot strollers.
In an urban setting, the seeds from the spiny balls may be eaten by birds, squirrels, and chipmunks. In the wild, sweetgums often grow in swampy areas, and there, the seeds are also enjoyed by beavers.
Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is a tall native tree of the southeastern U.S. In Kentucky, we are in the northern part of the sweetgum's natural range, though it is also found in southern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, near and within the Ohio River valley.
Sweetgum trees are noteworthy for their foliage. Their leaves are star-shaped, and their fall color may be orange, bright red or purple. The beauty of the leaves helps make up for the messiness of the tree's seed dispersal process.