The Sweetgum: Not Always So Sweet

City of Brentwood staff have received numerous complaints about our City’s Sweetgum trees – specifically, complaints about the gumballs that fall from the trees. We understand residents find the gumballs irritating, an eyesore and even a hazard. Some residents have requested the City remove the sweetgum trees in consideration of public safety.

City of Warmth…and Trees

The City of Brentwood is proud to have earned the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA designation for the past 29 years. In 2018, the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Missouri Community Forestry Council honored the City with the Arbor Award of Excellence for multiple reasons, including:

  • The mitigation of high-risk and severe-risk trees in the City’s right-of-way;
  • Completing a re-inventory of the City’s urban forest;
  • Instituting a 1-for-1 tree replacement program; and
  • Implementing the practice of proactive maintenance of the City’s urban forest.

About the Sweetgum

The American Sweetgum was introduced into Brentwood as a street tree following the decline in American Elm populations due to Dutch Elm disease beginning in the 1940s. In addition, the Sweetgum tree was chosen for its carbon absorbing and air purification properties. Sweetgum grows tall, straight and fast and is extremely tolerant of harsh urban conditions, drought and flooding. It would be the perfect street tree – except for the gumballs.

While these seed pods are an annoyance, Sweetgums provide many benefits. They provide shade in the summer to reduce temperatures and energy use, absorb and purify storm water, reduce air pollution and absorb carbon emissions. They also provide beautiful fall color, raise property values, and harbor birds and pollinators. Our 375+ population of Sweetgums provides the City of Brentwood with roughly $40,000 worth of such benefits every year.

Currently, Sweetgum trees comprise 15% of the total tree canopy in the City of Brentwood. While the City will remove trees that pose a threat to public safety, the City will only do so if that threat cannot be mitigated by means other than removal. To remove all the Sweetgum trees in the City at one time would decimate the urban canopy. It would not be economically or ecologically viable to remove healthy Sweetgums because of the gumballs.

Sweeping Away the Gumballs

On a regular basis, the street sweeper is deployed throughout the City’s residential areas to sweep all debris – including sweetgum balls – from city streets. We all have a shared responsibility for maintenance of the public rights-of-way. To help to keep Brentwood beautiful and keep neighbors safe, we ask residents to follow these guidelines:

  • DO keep sidewalks in front of your residence free of litter or debris.
  • DO place leaves, sweetgum balls and yard clippings in yard waste bags for pickup on Wednesdays.
  • Do NOT sweep or deposit any litter or debris, including leaves and yard clippings, into the street or gutter. These items can be transported into nearby storm sewers or water bodies and create environmental issues or street flooding.
  • Do NOT block sidewalks by parking on them. Sidewalks are designed for pedestrians and not heavy equipment or vehicles.