Which Trees Produce Spiked Round Seed Pods? Here’s How to Identify Them

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Which Trees Produce Spiked Round Seed Pods? Here's How to Identify Them

You don’t have to be a trained arborist to notice that certain trees have unique traits that can help you identify them. Spiky, round seed pods are one giveaway when you’re trying to figure out which types of established trees you have in your yard or that you come across in a park. These distinctive fruits can help narrow down the plant you’re curious about because there are only a handful of spiky trees that make these spherical, prickly pods. While they can make it painful to walk around the yard barefoot, the good news is that the pods are only around at certain times of the year. Here’s a look at which plants could be producing spiked, round balls that almost look like something from another planet.

chestnut tree with spiky round balls

Evgeniya Vlasova

Trees with Spiky Seed Pods

If you’ve encountered some round, spiny balls under a tree or maybe still on the plant, and you’re wondering what it could be, it’s likely one of several options: buckeye/horsechestnut (Aesculus), chestnut (Castanea), or sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua). All are common landscape trees and produce spiky pods around their seeds. The spines help protect the seeds from being eaten by critters like birds and squirrels. Here’s what each of the pods looks like.

Denny Schrock

Buckeye

Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) is usually a small to medium-size tree (20-40 feet tall) with compound leaves that have five oval-shaped leaflets. Closely related is the common horsechestnut (A. hippocastanum). It is 50-75 feet tall and usually has seven leaflets rather than five. Ohio buckeye turns orange-red to reddish-brown in fall; horsechestnuts turn yellow or brown. Both bear showy flowers in spring, which are followed by prickly or spiny capsules that split open in fall to release 1 or 2 nuts inside. Unlike actual chestnuts, the nuts of Aesculus species are toxic to people if eaten.

Ed Gohlich

Chestnut

American chestnut (Castanea dentata) are trees with green balls and used to be one of the most widespread native trees in North America, but a fungus blight wiped out most of them. Chinese chestnut (C. mollissima) or hybrids between the two species are more likely to be found nowadays. The leaves are oval-shaped with serrated edges. Fall color is yellow or bronze. The green ball-shaped fruits appear in early summer and remain on the tree until fall. The burs split open when ripe, revealing 1 to 4 edible nuts inside.

Sweet Gum

Sweet gum is a native shade tree that has glossy green leaves with five points, similar to a sugar maple. Fall color can be quite dramatic, with a combination of yellows, reds, and purples. The tree produces spiky green fruits about the size of a golf ball, which turn brown and drop off the tree over an extended period beginning in fall and continuing over the winter. The spiny fruit may be used in craft projects or as mulch to deter rabbits in the garden. If you’ve stepped on one barefoot, you know how uncomfortable it can be, plus they can make it difficult to mow when they are all over a lawn.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do spiky balls from trees attract animals?

    The dried spiky balls from sweetgum trees that fall to the ground develop holes that reveal seeds attracting dozens of birds, butterflies, and animals. Buckeye seeds inside their spiky balls are toxic to most animals, though squirrels eat them without problems.

  • What’s the best way to get rid of spiky balls from trees?

    To rid trees of spiky balls, hire an arborist. They can inject or spray the tree with a product that will stop the growth of the balls on the tree. If they’ve fallen to the ground, use a close-tined rake and dispose of them in the trash.

  • Can spiky balls from trees be planted?

    The seeds from the spiky balls can be planted to grow new trees, but not the spiky balls themselves. The seeds will need time for drying out and stratification before they’re ready for planting.

Most Popular Flowers & Plants in the USA

RegionPopular FlowersPopular Plants
Northeast (e.g., New York, Massachusetts)Rose, Purple Lilac, Mountain LaurelSugar Maple, American Elm, White Pine
Southeast (e.g., Florida, Georgia)Orange Blossom, Cherokee Rose, Southern MagnoliaLive Oak, Spanish Moss, Saw Palmetto
Midwest (e.g., Ohio, Illinois)Carnation, Violet, Purple ConeflowerBur Oak, Prairie Grasses, Wild Bergamot
Southwest (e.g., Texas, Arizona)Bluebonnet, Saguaro Cactus Flower, Indian PaintbrushJoshua Tree, Agave, Mesquite
West (e.g., California, Washington)California Poppy, Coast Rhododendron, BitterrootGiant Sequoia, Redwood, Manzanita
Rocky Mountain (e.g., Colorado, Montana)Rocky Mountain Columbine, Bitterroot, Indian PaintbrushBlue Spruce, Aspen, Sagebrush
Great Plains (e.g., Kansas, Nebraska)Sunflower, Goldenrod, Purple ConeflowerCottonwood, Bluestem Grasses, Buffalo Grass
Pacific Northwest (e.g., Oregon, Alaska)Oregon Grape, Forget-me-not, Pacific RhododendronDouglas Fir, Western Hemlock, Ferns

This table includes the most popular flowers and plants in the USA by region, which considers a range of botanical species, including native and widely cultivated varieties.

Most Popular Flowers & Plants in Australia

RegionPopular FlowersPopular Plants
New South WalesWaratah, Bottlebrush, Flannel FlowerEucalyptus, Acacia, Banksia
VictoriaCommon Heath, Waxflower, Pink HeathMountain Ash, Silver Wattle, Victorian Blue Gum
QueenslandCooktown Orchid, Golden Penda, Umbrella Tree FlowerMoreton Bay Fig, Macadamia Nut, Queensland Bottle Tree
South AustraliaSturt's Desert Pea, Kangaroo Paw, Eucalyptus BlossomAdelaide Blue Gum, South Australian Blue Gum, Saltbush
Western AustraliaRed and Green Kangaroo Paw, Mangles Kangaroo Paw, Swan River DaisyJarrah, Marri, Karri
TasmaniaTasmanian Blue Gum, Leatherwood Flower, Tasmanian WaratahHuon Pine, Tasmanian Oak, Myrtle Beech
Northern TerritorySturt's Desert Rose, Frangipani, Desert RoseBoab, Gidgee, Spinifex
Australian Capital TerritoryRoyal Bluebell, Australian Daisy, CorreaSnow Gum, River Red Gum, Black Mountain

This table offers a basic overview of popular flowers and plants in each Australian region, focusing on a combination of state flowers, native species, and other characteristic plants. It's important to note that specific species' popularity and prevalence can vary. This table is a simplified representation. Consulting local botanical gardens or regional horticultural societies in Australia would be ideal for more detailed and accurate information.

Charlotte Gammon

By Charlotte Gammon

Meet Charlotte Gammon, our expert and author. She's our true treasure, as she has got 20+ years of experience in gardening, winery and house design. In early 2000s, she worked for today.com magazine and was in charge of the gaardening section. Later on, Charlotte opened her own designer agency and worked as a designer and decorator. We are happy to have Charlotte with us, as she is our good friend. We value her experience and we're sure you will love the articles she created for our blog.