Q: What do you suggest growing for gumdrop tree material? I need some like I remember from my childhood 60 years ago. Marsha Yeager, email
A: Jenks Farmer, a South Carolina-based garden writer and lecturer, described his grandfather’s gumdrop tree as using branches from a mayhaw tree, painted white, for his yearly display. The ideal plant should have many thorns or small branches that can be sharpened to a point so that they can easily pierce a gumdrop. There are not many mayhaw trees here in Atlanta, but I nominate flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa, to make a holiday table centerpiece. Japanese barberry, Berberis thunbergii, could be another good candidate. Firethorn, Pyracantha coccinea, has thorns that have wounded many a gardener’s thumb. Of course, the perfect gumdrop tree could be made from the branches of trifoliate orange, Poncirus trifoliata, which has dangerous-looking thorns throughout. Honestly, just keep an eye out for small shrubs with lots of branches. Be sure to identify them correctly to ensure they are not dangerous. Cut some branches, wire them together, paint them white, and start impaling gumdrops!
Q: In August, you wrote that Joro spider venom is nothing to worry about. I came to the same conclusion. With this in mind, I did not fear them. I crushed some wearing gloves and some with my bare hands. A week later, I had a tremendous reaction. Both my arms and my calves broke out with hives. I was prescribed medicine for the itching but the hives remained. The skin on my hands peeled off four times! People need to know this about these spiders! Ronald Sanner, email
A: It may sound harsh to say it, but simply because you had a reaction on your hands after crunching the spiders does not mean the spiders caused it. I suppose there is a small amount of venom involved, but there are a lot more bodily fluids and sharp parts of the exoskeleton. I have no doubt you had a reaction to something, but I am not at all convinced it was caused by the Joro spider venom. Next time, use a stick to wind the web around and toss it into nearby bushes.
Reader reaction to a recent column
Jonathan Goodson sends this: You wrote disapprovingly about smilax recently, but actually it’s a very attractive plant. It grows nicely on trellises, looks beautiful, and requires absolutely no maintenance. Once it fills in a trellis or a fence, it’s very pretty. You can avoid the thorns by planting a ground cover that extends a few feet from the vine-covered object.
Email Walter at email@example.com. Listen to his occasional garden comments on “Green and Growing with Ashley Frasca” Saturday mornings on 95.5 WSB. Visit his website, www.walterreeves.com, or join his Facebook page at bit.ly/georgiagardener for his latest tips.