Friday, April 27, 2007

Gang Gangs and Sweetgums

Disclaimer- this was the post I was working on before Mrs. Lemming went into labor. I apologize for any change of tone halfway through. But seeing how she was attacked by lawyers this week, I’m gonna dedicate this post to the writer of Retrospectacle. Ms. Shelley Batts, this parrot’s for you.

The American sweetgum (liquidambar styraciflua) is a deciduous coastal plain tree that grows from around New York City down the Atlantic seaboard well into the Deep South. It is notorious for its sweet gum balls, which are spiky, hard, inch-sized fruit which are painful underfoot and remarkably resistant to rot, predation, conflagration, or any other means of destruction. We had a big sweet gum tree in the house where I grew up, and after raking them into the compost heap, we could find layers where they would remain years after everything else rotted away. If not raked up, they would inevitably get frozen into the dog’s fur in winter, or get picked up by the lawnmower and accelerated (undamaged, of course), into my shins. It was a family joke that they were so indestructible that after the sun burned out and blasted the Earth’s atmosphere and biota to a crisp, the sweetgum balls would remain, the only biological object refactory enough to survive the inferno and bear testament to the former presence of life on the planet.

Of course, that was an American view of the balls. Here in Australia, they are considered bird candy.

Liquidambar (as they are locally known, to differentiate them from eucalypt “gum” trees) are a relatively common decorative tree planted in Victoria, southern NSW, and here in Canberra. And as this picture above shows (taken by me, with my own camera, not borrowed from any journal via the fair use provision), gang gangs love to eat sweet gum balls.

Unlike sulphur crested cockatoos or galahs, gang gangs are not well adapted to agriculture. They don’t flock to developed areas, and they avoid human contact. Unlike most parrots, I’ve never seen them eat any nuts, birdfood, or fruit. But every autumn, as the foreign deciduous leaves fall and reveal the sweetgum balls, gang gangs fly in from the surrounding native forests to feast on the most indestructible seed pod North American trees have to offer.


Shelley said...

Fantastic picture!!!

Thanks so much for the shout-out too. I'm posting this over at Retro. :)

DNLee said...

i didn't know they were in Australia. I'm preparing a post about sweet gums, soon. I'll link to your article.

have a great day/