What’s Been Eating My Sweet Gum Tree?

The sweet gum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) was mature when we got here–a twenty-five or thirty year-old tree. Sixty feet tall and, until now, problem free.

But this year, the lower leaves are about chewed away. The good news: the leaves at the top of the tree seem to be intact.

Google to the rescue–only not this time. Google points to tent or bag worms. It names a few specific caterpillars that like to feast on sweet gums. But I can’t find signs of any of these. So what’s been eating my sweet gum? Still a mystery.

While I haven’t noticed any tents or bags, I have seen black cocoon-like structures dangling from the lower branches. We removed these and drowned them in soapy water. But it’s too late to save the lower leaves, which means it’s too late to spray for caterpillars. But guaranteed, I’ll look for caterpillars next spring.

All the articles say that wasps and hornets will eat caterpillars. This year, we haven’t seen as many wasps as usual. I think that’s a bad thing, another one of those soft signs that the climate is changing.