How to Identify a Tree With Puffy Balls

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Trees with puffy balls, or seed pods, often create a sense of amazement to amateur horticulturists. Many types of trees exist throughout the United States that produce various forms of seed containment devices. Some appear much like cocoons, while others might look like elongated string beans. Quite a few seed containers have extremely hard shells, such as those found on a chestnut tree or pecan tree. Consider a few trees as "front runners" with regard to producing puffy balls.

  • Observe whether the puffy ball is a blossom. The flowers of a mimosa resemble pink fluffy balls that appear in June and provide a colorful display throughout the summer months. The flowers, brilliant white in the center, shade to pink and then to red along their outer edges. The puffy ball of the flower produces nectar enjoyed by bumblebees and hummingbirds. Flat bean pods appear under the puffy balls and drop off in late fall.

  • Check the inside of the puffy ball for seeds. The seed part of the sycamore tree resembles a puffy ball, about 1 inch in diameter. The balls hang from stalks up to 6 inches in length, and many remain on the tree throughout the winter months. In early spring, they fall apart and reveal puffy tufts of hair with a seed attached to each hair. The hairs act like sails in the wind and carry the seeds in many directions.

  • Notice the color of the puffy ball. Some may have a greenish color at first and as they mature may turn brown. For example, the puffy ball of the silk-floss tree, a woody and oblong green capsule, turns dark brown just before it bursts open and reveals its cottony contents of numerous seeds attached to fibers.

  • Inspect the texture of the puffy ball. Some puffy balls have a texture much like that of compressed wads of cotton. The texture of other puffy balls may appear as strands of silvery-white hair. Some puffy balls have a featherlike texture and look like miniature headdresses.

  • Smell the puffy ball and try to detect an aroma. For example, the odor of mimosa, much like that of a heavy perfume, infuses the puffy ball found on a mimosa tree. The puffy balls of a sycamore tree tend to give off a woodsy odor.

  • Use your observations to find the species of tree by comparing your notes with descriptions in a field guide to trees, such as that provided by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Tips & Warnings

  • Puffy balls from a tree create interest in flower arrangements.
  • Stinging insects abound in and around trees with puffy balls.

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