Sweet Gum Tree Advice

Q: I have a huge 100-year-old sweet gum tree in my side yard and it endows us with sweet gum balls all year. Is there a way to keep these balls from forming? I was told from a friend that there is a way to make this tree sterile and not form these balls. I called our local agricultural extension but they've never gotten back to me on their answer. If you could get this answer for me I would be most appreciative.

Thanks,
Pam from Georgetown, SC

A: How lucky you are to have a 100 year-old tree in your yard! There are a couple of recently introduced products that provide chemical control for sweet gumballs. One is called Florel Fruit Eliminator, which is sprayed on the flowers to prevent them from fruiting. The disadvantage of using a spray product is that the chemicals can drift over to healthy trees and plants (in your yard and in your neighbor's yard) and eventually make their way to your local waterways. Application of this product also has a limited timeframe (1 week) and it can be difficult to spray the tops of large trees.

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The other product, Snipper, is also a de-flowering agent, which is applied via trunk injection. Both treatments are best done by a professional arborist and should not be performed on trees that are under stress from drought or disease. Each treatment may cost from $200-$300 and may need to be repeated annually to be effective. Since your tree is located in a side yard, your best bet might be to get yourself a good rake or try to live with it. Also, I'm never an advocate of using chemicals. Perhaps readers on this site could suggest some creative uses for your excess gumballs. If you ever lose this tree or take it down, there are now "gumball-less" cultivars available.

Ellen

Answers:

Sweet Gum Tree Advice

Keep the tree producing the balls!

"Sweetgum tree could help lessen shortage of bird flu drug
ATLANTA, March 29 - The sweetgum tree grows widely throughout the country and is known for its mace-like green fruit, which are sometimes called "gumballs." Now, this spiny fruit may become an important source of a chemical needed to make a lifesaving drug against bird flu - a drug that is currently in short supply worldwide, researchers say.

Chemists have found that the seeds of the sweetgum fruit contain significant amounts of shikimic acid, the starting material used to produce the main antiviral agent in a much-heralded drug for fighting bird flu. Their findings, which could help increase the global supply of the drug, were described today at the 231st national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

Shikimic acid is used to make a generic drug called oseltamivir - best known commercially as Tamiflu® - which is used to fight many types of flu viruses. Some health experts believe that this and similar antiviral drugs could help save lives by slowing the spread of the virus in the absence of a bird flu vaccine, which is still in development.

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The drug, which blocks the replication of the flu virus, is being stockpiled worldwide to slow or stop a possible bird flu pandemic that some experts predict could kill millions - if the virus mutates into a form that can spread from person to person. The virus, a strain known as H5N1, primarily afflicts birds at present but has been known to kill a small but growing number of humans who have had close contact with infected birds.

There is a skyrocketing demand for Tamiflu, but some experts fear there won't be enough of the drug to treat everyone if a worldwide pandemic occurs. The supply problem resides in the drug's source: The shikimic acid used to make it is obtained almost exclusively from the Chinese star anise, a fruit that is found mainly in China and whose supply has dwindled due to high demand for the flu drug. Although shikimic acid is found in many plants, star anise has been considered the most abundant plant source, until now.

"Our work gives the hearty sweetgum tree another purpose, one that may help to alleviate the worldwide shortage of shikimic acid," says study leader Thomas Poon, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry from the W.M. Keck Science Center at The Claremont Colleges in Claremont, Calif. "They have lots of potential for fighting bird flu."

The sweetgum tree grows widely throughout the United States and other parts of the world. In this country, it is particularly common in the South, including the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama, but also can be found as far west as Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma and northward in parts of Illinois.

Although shikimic acid is found in the leaves and bark of the tree, it is most abundant in the fruit, Poon says. In the mature tree, the fruit emerges as a green seedpod that later dries into a brown, spiny husk, which releases an abundance of tiny, grain-like seeds. To optimize shikimic acid extraction, the gumballs need to be harvested when they are still green and before the seeds have been dispersed, Poon says. Each tree can hold hundreds, if not thousands, of seedpods.

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Editor's Note: I tried to find the source of this article. There are many links online to this report. You might be able to collect up these seed pods and sell them to someone. Also, it might be possible to find a way to concoct an herbal remedy with sweet gum or star anise. (04/09/2006)

By John from Florida

Sweet Gum Tree Advice

Hi! We have two Sweet Gum trees in our yard and are also inundated with the "gumballs". We had a lawncare person inject Snipper into the trees last year to do what you described. Unfortunately it didn't work. It is very time specific and maybe it wasn't done at the right time. It was quite expensive at almost $150 a tree. We were very disappointed and are trying to get our money back now. (04/12/2006)

By Yvette

Sweet Gum Tree Advice

I was interested in the story about the gum tree as I have one in my front yard. The people who planted it should be jailed. It's a beautiful tree, but what a mess. There are a few different products for gum trees to stop seeds. One is Deer and Rabbit repellent. If the person contacts their local garden center, they might be able to find this product or a similar one.

Nancy Holmes
(05/16/2006)

By Virginia

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