Written By Tyler Van Fleet.

Posted on November 28th, 2016.

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One of my favorite holiday decorations is our trio of miniature Christmas trees that I helped Mom make years ago from the fruits of the sweetgum tree. The fruits are dry, brown, spiky balls called “gumballs” that you might see lying on the ground in parks and along streets.

Big brass sleigh bells clang as I enter my parents’ house in Maine and shut the door behind me. The sound makes it clear—I’m officially home for the holidays. Other familiar decorations greet me: the homemade matchbox advent calendar, the 4-foot tall stuffed Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the string of plug-in bells that play every carol ever conceived, on repeat, until Mom, exasperated, insists on a long intermission.

One of my favorite holiday decorations, though, is our trio of miniature Christmas trees that I helped Mom make years ago from the fruits of the sweetgum tree. The fruits are dry, brown, spiky balls called “gumballs” that you might see lying on the ground in parks and along streets.

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Sweetgum trees have star-shaped leaves and dry, spiky “gumball” fruits. Photo credit: Michasia Harris, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

What we’d do is hook the dried-out gumballs together to form cone shapes. Then we’d spritz on some gold or silver spray paint, add a string of beads for garland, and attach bows, buttons, and tiny bells for ornaments.

Sweetgum gumball trees are a great holiday craft for kids. They also look better than you’d think they would. We’d cluster together several different sized trees, and the result was a charming centerpiece for the table or mantle.

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This craft is a lot easier if you live in the southeastern US where sweetgum is more common. Growing up in Maine, we had to collect gumballs during our family trips to Pennsylvania to visit my Nana. Abundant in the yards and parks of her suburban neighborhood, we easily filled several plastic bags with gumballs to bring home for crafting.


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