I recently moved to southern Virginia near the coast (about 15 miles in from it). All over the ground are these spiky balls that I assume contain seeds to the tree they fall off of.

There are literally thousands of these things on the ground. When they first fell, they were green in color. I would have grabbed a picture of the bark of the tree, but the tree that dropped these is covered in some sort of ivy vine that's growing up it and I couldn't get a good picture of the bark. The trees aren't near any water sources.

seed pod seed pods on ground

  • What does the seed (or seeds) inside look like? Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 23:40
  • Some of our older neighbors refer to the balls as "sputniks."
    – user2169
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 2:15

1 Answer 1


That is a sweet gum tree.

The distinctive compound fruit is hard, dry, and globose,1–1.5 inches (25–38 mm) in diameter, composed of numerous (40-60) capsules.[13] Each capsule, containing one to two small seeds, has a pair of terminal spikes (for a total of 80-120 spikes). When the fruit opens and the seeds are released, each capsule is associated with a small hole (40-60 of these) in the compound fruit.

Fallen, opened fruits are often abundant beneath the trees; these have been popularly nicknamed "burr (or bir) balls",[14] "gum balls",[19] "space bugs", "monkey balls", "bommyknockers", "sticker balls",[20] or "goblin bombs".


See this page for an almost identical picture of the spiky ball and this one (via @Sue) to show the range which means that they are definitely in Virginia.


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