A Liquidambar Tree.
Just as we were getting into the car in Solvang a couple of weeks ago, I spied the three gumballs hanging from the sweetgum or liquidambar tree in the parking lot. I just had to grab a photo of it. The couple sitting in the car near the tree looked a bit apprehensive; they seemed to think I was an odd specimen running around photographing people sitting in their autos. I was actually pointing my camera above their car.
I think there are (at least) two varieties of this tree. A quick internet search gave me information about the tree. I knew it in Oregon as a sweetgum tree, the nasty, deciduous, fast growing tree that littered my yard every fall and winter with prickly balls and large five pointed leaves. We did not have one on our property but most of my neighbors owned at least one. It seemed like all the leaves from all the trees in the entire neighborhood ended up in my yard for me to rake and dispose of. (This was almost true, due mostly to the wind patterns in our cul de sac.) I thought when we moved to Southern California that I had escaped its messy ways.
Not so. There are sweet gum trees everywhere in our neighborhood. Recently, when we were walking along the path in the nature park, a friend asked me the name of the tree, and I told her it was a sweet gum. But evidently, here in SoCal, the tree is called Liquidambar. Whatever its name, it still drops its balls and leaves and they pile up in the gutters and clog the creek, blow into people's yards and litter the streets.
It is true that they are lovely trees to look at. The seed pods remind me of Christmas balls hanging on the branches.
The trees are noted for their interesting, deeply grooved bark.