Monkey balls

There seems to be a bit of confusion regarding my statement about monkey balls.  I should have known better than to use such a raunchy Upper-Mid-Atlantic colloquialism without expecting as much.

To clarify: I was not speaking about monkey testicles.  I was speaking about those spiky things that drop from the American Sweetgum tree.

Wikipedia offers a helpful description of the tree and the object in question:

The fruit, popularly nick-named a “space bug”, “monkey ball”, “bommyknocker”, “bir ball”, “gumball” or “sticky ball”, is a hard, dry, globose, compound fruit 2.5-4 cm in diameter and composed of numerous (20-50) capsules. Each capsule has a pair of terminal spikes, and contains one to two small seeds.

These little buggers can be found all over the place after the tree sheds its leaves for autumn.  I always noticed them in the park I used to play in as a kid.  You can’t take a step without walking on at least five.  Since they are the botanical equivalent of a whiffle ball, we used to chuck them at one another without fear of losing an eye.

I don’t think the American Sweetgum tree grows outside the general southeast of the states, so those of you who live in Oregon or Montana or Timbuktu might not have firsthand knowledge of monkey balls.  But it seems that they also go by other names.  So, if you have encountered the dried fruit of the American Sweetgum, what do you call it?


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nikki
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 00:26:38

    I did have a feeling you didn’t mean actual monkey testies!! Funny name for them!! I wouldn’t be able to talk about them without giggling inside. 🙂 Thanks for the info…it did stir up some confusion didn’t it!?


  2. In10Words aka "Galileo"
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 10:19:10

    So THAT’S what those are! I’m from around the same area (Long Island) and never heard that term.

    Then again, I hear Steamed Hams is more of an Albany expression…


  3. Joy
    Feb 25, 2009 @ 10:44:37

    Now I can breath a sigh of relief!! It gave us some laughs at least 🙂


  4. natalie
    Feb 25, 2009 @ 21:11:11

    listen, sister…i’m from the ‘upper mid-atlantic region’ you speak of and have NEVER, and i mean NEVER, heard of those little spikey things referred to as monkey balls.

    i actually thought you were talking about those nubby balls you throw in the dryer to keep lint away. lolz.


  5. mylesfromnowhere
    Feb 25, 2009 @ 23:07:50

    I inadvertently taught my 5 year to call Kiwis (the fruit not the nationality) gorilla balls…. I was reprimanded by his daycare


  6. Gary
    Feb 26, 2009 @ 16:35:15

    Ohhhhhhhh, so THAT’S what you meant by monkey balls. I have never seen those things before. I live in Northwestern Illinois, and I don’t think we have any of those things around here. I didn’t think you actually meant real monkey testicles either. I thought you were talking about monkey bread!!! They usually resemble “balls”, as in the round shaped objects used in sports like basketball and soccer, when on your plate. 🙂


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