Betty’s Sweetgum Tree

Cape May, NJ  – Every fall, a certain sweetgum tree pulls out all the stops and lights up our Cape May yard with its incredible foliage.

And every fall, I remember the day that tree came to be here.

It was a hot, hot August day a dozen years ago when Betty, my mother-in- law, gave us a call.

She was distraught. Construction crews were going to clear a lot next to her Cape May home the next day. We had to come over right away to rescue a tree or two.

All we wanted to do was stay cool in the 90 degree heat.

Betty was insistent.

We ended up digging up a scrawny, sweetgum sapling on the hottest day of the year.

Although Cape May sweetgums normally grow in wet or moist areas, we hastily planted the tiny specimen in a bone dry field behind our old house. Then we promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward to now.

By some crazy fluke, when we built our new house, the little whip of a tree ended up in a prominent spot in our new side yard.

Despite neglect, the sweetgum not only survived, it thrived. Even after a new electric line had to be run perilously close to the tree’s roots, the tree shook off the intrusion without a problem.

Through the years, it’s grown and prospered into a healthy, major league tree. During Cape May’s hot summers,  the tree shades the house in the afternoons.

In the fall, Betty’s sweetgum steals the show. It waits until neighboring trees have lost their leaves before turning a kaleidoscope of orange, yellow and red.

The vibrant colors catch me off guard every November.  Our little rescued sapling seems more beautiful as the years go bye.

It doesn’t matter that our perennials and shrubs and even most of the annuals have stopped blooming for the season.

Every color imaginable is in Betty’s tree.

As it should be.

No one color would ever describe the lady who saved this tree many years ago.

We smile every fall and thank her for this wonderful gift.

About Jane Kashlak

Jane Kashlak is a journalist, a gardener and a Cape Island resident. She's also Cape May Times' photographer. She founded Cape May Times after a long and lively career in TV news.