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Sweetgum Tree – Our Witch Hazel Family Study

Sweetgum Tree Witch Hazel Family @handbookofnaturestudy

I just stumbled across some information that led me to learn that our sweetgum or liquidambar trees are related to the witch hazel, belonging to the same botanical family. If you are looking for an alternative to the witch hazel study, you might look in your area for a sweetgum tree to observe up close instead. Right now they are very easy to spot with their beautiful autumn colored leaves.

sweetgum tree (9)

Our trees are beginning to form the sticker balls and are bright green. This are actually the fruits of the tree and will dangle down like little tree ornaments, turning brown as the season progresses. The information we found about the fruits says that each prickly point will eventually open up to release two winged seeds. We are going to watch and see if we can find those seeds this year!The leaves have five pointy lobes and a long stem.

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The leaves of the tree have a nice aroma.

The sweetgum is native to many parts of the United States and you can see a map here on USDA.



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Autumn Tree Study – California Style

Here in California we do not have a witch hazel to study up close. We decided to do a more general tree study and take a trip to the U.C. Davis Arboretum since it is just an hour drive from our home.  For those that are not familiar with arboretums, they are botanical gardens devoted to trees. This particular arboretum has a three and half mile loop you can walk adjacent to Putah Creek.

Just a note: In doing some researching even after I wrote the Autumn Nature Study Continues ebook, I discovered that the sweetgum tree is in the same family as the witch hazel (Hamamelidaceae). Although it isn’t a late fall bloomer like witch hazel, we do enjoy our sweetgum trees and their autumn color. I will be creating a page in my nature journal for this tree instead of the witch hazel.

Back to our arboretum visit…

Davis Arboretum Oct 2014 (2)

In several sections there are walkways on both sides of the creek with picturesque bridges connecting the two sides. On the afternoon we visited, there were few people and it was calming to stroll along taking in the beautiful surroundings.

Davis Arboretum Oct 2014 (8)

Each section of the arboretum has a theme, a collection of trees from various parts of the world like Australia or South America. My favorite area was the Redwood Grove where there were many coast redwoods and sequoia trees planted like a small forest. There were benches and picnic tables at which there were people sitting and enjoying a quiet afternoon. I wish I could share with you the delightful aroma of the warm redwoods in the sun.

Davis Arboretum Oct 2014 (9)

Many of the trees had small signs that gave you their name, family, and native habitat. I always like to know what I am looking at so this added to my enjoyment of the walk. The valley oaks are plentiful in this area and there were some majestic specimens to enjoy with their large sometimes colorful leaves and acorns scattered all around the trunks.

Davis Arboretum Oct 2014 (10)

This made a perfect habitat for lots and lots of squirrels. Watch out for squirrels darting across the trail or sitting in trees above and chattering at you as you walk.


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Here’s an image looking up at the valley oak…we wondered how old these trees were.

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We truly enjoyed this afternoon at the arboretum. Not only the trees, but the ducks and turtles in the water. From the bridges you could get a clear view of the many Western pond turtles that were swimming and basking on this particular day.

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I always find it interesting to take a few close ups of the ground in different places. Here are two of my images from our walk.

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Can you tell it is autumn?  Look at all those acorns!

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Finally, I collected a few leaves to sketch into my nature journal….love the colors all together!

We continue to have warm sunny weather and we are trying to take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy walks to note the autumn trees.

Have you taken an autumn tree walk yet?

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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Witch Hazel Tree Study

Witch Hazel Nature Study @handbookofnaturestudy

Inside Preparation Work:

Outdoor Hour Time:

  • Use your outdoor time this week to look at fall trees, looking in particular for the yellow strap-like flowers and nuts of the Witch Hazel. It might be fun to also include a Fall Nature Walk Scavenger Hunt using this printable from Hearts and Trees.
  • Take along your nature journals to sketch the Witch Hazel flower into your nature journal.
  • Advanced students: Make sure to look for the Witch Hazel nuts and find the seeds if possible. If possible, collect a few of the nuts to take home to discover just how far the seeds will fly once the nut opens up.

Follow-Up Activity:

Create a nature journal entry all about the Witch Hazel. Here are some things to include (or you can use the notebook page in the ebook:

  • Color and texture of the bark
  • Leaves, if any are present, noting the color.
  • Flower (see page 688 in the Handbook of Nature Study for a nice diagram of the flower)
  • Date of your observations and the location
  • Draw the Witch Hazel nut. Write how you think the seeds are thrown so far from the tree.

Advanced Study: Complete the notebooking page in the ebook using a field guide or the internet resources above.

Handbook of Nature Study Ultimate Naturalist Library

Join us for this series of challenges every week here on the Handbook of Nature Study. If you want to purchase the Autumn Nature Study Continues ebook so you can follow along with all the notebooking pages, coloring pages, and subject images, you can join the Ultimate or Journey Membership Levels. See the Join Us page for complete information. Also, you can view the Autumn Nature Study Continues content list on the announcement page.

OHC Autumn Nature Study Continues Cover Button

You can also submit any Outdoor Hour Challenge blog entry from October to the next edition of the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival by sending the link directly to me by 10/29/14.