Monday, October 19, 2015

Sweet as Sap?

American Sweet Gum, Liquidambar styraciflua, Liquid Amber seems like a perfect name for a leaf that turns into a warm golden amber color, as well as red, purple, and exquisite mixed colors.  The second meaning of the name is equally important: the sweet resinous sap that has been used medicinally is a kind of liquid amber too.  But I am drawing the amber-colored leaf that I found while visiting family in Cranbury, New Jersey on Saturday, October 17.  I have long loved the Sweet Gum for its star-shaped often 5-pointed leaves that are an artist’s delight.  The tree itself is tall with alternate, palmate (shaped like the human palm) leaves.  I was surprised to read that the genus Liquidambar has a long history from the Cretaceous to the Quaternary era 99.7 to 0.781 million years ago.  It died out in some of the areas where it originally lived because of glaciation and cold weather.  But today it is doing well in the east coast of North America.  However, one cannot write about the Sweet Gum without mentioning one drawback for those who like to walk barefoot or to walk their dogs near one when it is producing seed pods. The spiky pods can cause a lot of pain if you or your dog step on them, but they do provide seeds that are loved by many small hungry songbirds as the days get shorter and colder.  Those seed pods are not only painful to step on but also to draw, and while I may be a sap, I am going to challenge myself to try to draw one for a later post. 

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