Why Are Sweetgum Trees Called “Widow Makers”?

widow maker

Q: My neighbor refers to sweetgum trees as “widow makers” because seemingly healthy branches can suddenly fall and kill an unsuspecting guy walking underneath. Have you heard this term before and is it reserved for sweetgum trees? 

A: A widow maker could be a turbo-charged Porche, a Winchester shotgun, or a massive heart attack, in addition to a falling tree limb. A friend and I were watching TV one night when we heard a big crash on my front driveway. A huge limb from a nearby sweetgum tree had fallen with no warning onto her car. Similarly, a 20’ long sweetgum limb fell in my backyard during the night and crushed a line of azaleas. Both trees are now gone. I think the problem comes from limbs that are weakly attached, due to the fast-growing nature of a sweetgum tree. Limbs that attach to the trunk at an angle of 45 degrees or less are prone to fall. Trees that divide into two dueling tops are likely to split. It’s a good idea to occasionally walk through your landscape with your eyes focused upward into your trees rather than downward on your lawn or flowers.

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