GRANOLAPARK: Sweet and Sour


Dear Readers,

According to some the fruit of the sweet gum tree is a pedestrian threat. The fruit – a dry seed pod about the size of a big gum ball with little spikes – is the problem. Some residents claim they are unpleasant and even dangerous to walk on. They say they are a rolling hazard and that the spikes are a danger to children’s tender feet. They also say sweet gum roots damage sidewalks.

They object to the city planting sweet gum trees along sidewalks in the right-of-way for these reasons. They are livid that the city arborist planted some along Maple Avenue. They’ve expressed this to the council several times this year at citizen comment sessions.

In response the council and staff seem willing to give residents a vote on what trees it plants in right-of-ways. The choice will be limited to two. The city arborist follows a formula to ensure a diversity of tree species and types throughout the city. This narrows the choice.

Also, since it buys in bulk lots, it costs the city more to buy a variety of tree species than to purchase the same number of one species.

Sweet Defense

Though the city made the concessions, the arborist Todd Bolton defended the decision to put in sweet gum trees. The sweet gum “fruit drop” does not last long, he said, and the sidewalks can be swept for that short season. He also pointed out that all trees have some kind of fruit or sap problem. Acorns, for instance, are even more of a rolling hazard underfoot. Ginkos are unwelcome due to their odor when the fruit flowers.

He said that though sweet gums roots will damage sidewalks, so do all other large “over story” trees. He said the public works department replaces sidewalks every twenty years – which is the amount of time the tree takes to grow big enough to cause damage. So, the city is not losing money due to premature sidewalk replacement.

Bolton defended the sweet gum, saying it is a native species, is highly resistant to disease and pests, is rare in the city (so planting them would increase species diversity), and has ornamental bark and fall foliage.

The discussion and the proposed voting procedure are part of an overall process to review and revise the city’s tree ordinance.

Junction Action

The Takoma Junction Task Force is stretching, flexing, and ready to work out! They gave a progress report to the council Jan 31. They’ve divided into subcommittees, each focusing on a TJ issue. One subcommittee is looking at the city owned lot – the parking lot next to the food coop. Another is looking at “movability” – meaning traffic signal timing, crosswalks, and the feasibility of putting in a roundabout.

It doesn’t look good for the roundabout. Preliminary thoughts are that there isn’t enough room to make a good one. Your Gilbert remembers when there was NO traffic light at the corner of Route 410 and Sycamore??? – and the traffic flowed just fine most of the time. The light was put in so residents could get onto Route 410 during morning rush hour. So, why not turn if off the rest of the day?

Also of interest was the news that the coop is thinking of expanding. One option the coop has is to buy the city lot and build there. The current coop building is not owned by the coop so building an annex next to it is a bit chancy. Another, less favored by the coop, option is to relocate to a nearby storefront.

The committee will be back in March with a report.

– Gilbert


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About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

2 Comments on "GRANOLAPARK: Sweet and Sour"

  1. As presented here, I guess I might consider supporting the sweet gum tree planting along Maple Avenue. However, the arborist says that the sidewalks can be swept during their not long flowering season. Hmm… owners of apartment buildings along Maple Avenue do not currently sweep the sidewalks, and the city doesn’t either. You can’t get the owners to clear the snow completely from sidewalks now, though snow clearly obstructs pedestrain passage. I’m certainly not convinced that they will care to sweep the sidewalks of the sweet gum tree fruit.
    I’m for a variety of trees, but why make people who live along the major pedestrian boulevard in the town deal with the various hazards of certain trees? Why can’t we have a planting plan that doesn’t overly-inconvenience pedestrains along this route? Wouldn’t that allow us to have the tree variety in Takoma Park, but still respect our (walking) residents? That gets my vote, hands down!

  2. Hope it’s not too late, but my sister sent me thea rticle re: SWEET GUM TREES. I have a new right hip which was a life-changing event, and not for the better. The new hip was made necessary by a fall onto a brick sidewalk when I stepped on a sweet gum ball, which acted like a ball bearing.
    $40,000 later – thank heavens for a good insurance plan and Medicare – I walk on my own, w/ limp in cold weather. The event was 2 1/2 yeares ago.
    Yes, the fruits Can be swept up, but the place where I fell said they swept every morning. The tree(s) had shed some more fruit by 2:00 p.m…..
    There’s no denying the trees are lovely in their fall colors, but falls are a leading cause of death and/or disability in the elderly and I think the Arborist – who I would assume is young enough not to have brittle bones or close relatives so afflicted – needs to re-think. If diversity is the sole issue, I think you’re being very short-sighted.ja9cq3

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