Grangran’s Gumdrop Tree

My grandfather cooked.   He set the table with “Old Britain Castles” china; he painted and gardened.  Maybe because the lessons were so constant, from birth on, I don’t recall him teaching me gardening things.  But I know the palmetto tree by the back steps wasIMG_9428 one he dug up on Hunting Island; I know he planted the pomegranate and taught me to save salvia seed in a brown paper bag.   Not one single time do I recall a lesson from him, but there is no question in my mind that he rooted the angel wing cane begonias that lived on the porch for decades.

The gumdrop tree is the same.  It was just there every Christmas.   I never went with him to cut it or paint it or prepare it.   I think it was silver, but my older cousin says white.  None of us remember any details other than the gumdrops on it.   It’s also associated with a tiny warning: beware the thorns.  As I type this, I have a thorn in the tip of my index finger.

Not just any tree can hold enough gumdrops.  What was his tree?  Mayhaw trees grow wild in scrubby places throughout the southern sandhills.  This had to be Grangran’s tree.  They grow like weeds around here and make the perfect gumdrop holder.  Yesterday, I cut a few branches and cleaned them up with pruners to make my gumball trees.  And I painted them silver.  Nothing bought could have made Momma more happy than this simple, joyful decoration.

Mayhaw, May apple,  (in the genus Crataegus)  makes a lovely small tree from the garden.  Our native species (C. aestivalis) grows fast, is completely drought tolerant, and is covered with white cherry like flowers right around March.  Another, Crataegus brachyacantha, flowers a month later.  Both have beautiful, gray gnarly bark. Both are relatively fast growing — I’ve planted lots of small specimens, purchased mail order from Woodlanders — all are now 20 feet tall or so and about that wide.   But there’s even a great container sized dwarf called Riefler’s Dwarf — I grew it for years in a pot and pulled it onto the deck at Thanksgiving, after it had dropped leaves and revealed its tiny rusty orange fruits.




  1. Steve on December 14, 2014 at 8:02 am

    I made one of these with my beloved 100 year old Grandmother in 1985 in Spartanburg , SC. I would love to win one of these in memory of her.

    • Jenks Farmer on December 14, 2014 at 8:24 am

      I always forget you have southern roots!

    • Denise on December 14, 2014 at 8:30 am

      Gum Drop trees for Christmas and Jelly Bean trees for Easter!

  2. Virginia Kirwan on December 14, 2014 at 8:13 am

    I love these stories and these memories you share. The gumdrop tree is adorable!

    • Jenks Farmer on December 14, 2014 at 8:23 am

      did you have them in west virginia?

  3. Sarah Sharrett on December 14, 2014 at 8:13 am

    This is cute!!! I will have to give it a try at home

    • Jenks Farmer on December 14, 2014 at 8:23 am

      so easy sarah, yall have lots of these trees around

  4. Teresa Hill on December 14, 2014 at 8:16 am

    Oh, I Love a gumdrop tree…a great childhood memory!!! I found a two-piece plastic gumdrop tree in an antique shop years ago…not very pretty but the childhood memories it reminded me of was wonderful!!! I would really Love to have one to share with my grandchildren!!!

    • Jenks Farmer on December 14, 2014 at 8:22 am

      wow, i’ve never seen a plastic one!

  5. Paul Bouseman on December 14, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Goody gumdrops!

    • Jenks Farmer on December 14, 2014 at 9:25 am

      You know they don’t call them gumdrops any more?

  6. Millie Davenport on December 14, 2014 at 8:44 am

    Wow! You just brought back so many memories for me. My grandmother in Virginia had a clear plastic one when I was a kid….I always loved that tree…I ha forgotten all about it (yours is prettier, btw) Merry Christmas!

    • Jenks Farmer on December 14, 2014 at 9:26 am

      Sweet Millie! Merry Christmas!

  7. Will Balk on December 14, 2014 at 8:51 am

    A wonderful memory, and a wonderful tradition you’ve revived. Ever had mayhaw jelly? I haven’t, but it’s an old timey thing the country folks would do.

    • Jenks Farmer on December 14, 2014 at 9:42 am

      I can’t think of having it either Will. Occassionally I see it in shops. Think how many thorns you’d get trying to make that…

  8. Dawn Reardon on December 14, 2014 at 8:53 am

    i love the memories that you share. They conjure up my own. After all, it’s the little things that are the sweetest.

  9. Richard Lawson on December 14, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Great memory! Got to have one of those for Christmas next year!
    Thanks for the information and nostalgia! ral

    • Jenks Farmer on December 14, 2014 at 9:40 am

      Merry Christmas Richard!

  10. Lee Anne Stoddard on December 14, 2014 at 9:22 am

    We used a hawthorn branch for our gumdrop tree. Is that the same as a mayhaw Jenks?

    • Jenks Farmer on December 14, 2014 at 9:40 am

      Same thing! We actually called them may apple. But I think mayhaw is pretty common as there’s a jelly made from it.

  11. Wendy on December 14, 2014 at 9:39 am

    Love this post. Bet your mom was thrilled to see it. I love all the non-lesson lessons you learned from your grandpa. He sound pretty amazing

  12. Ms. Monotropa on December 14, 2014 at 9:42 am

    i love the Hawthorne tree. Does this mean they are related? Any berries? I don’t know this plant. Will have to make an effort to introduce myself. I do know gum ball trees, however! I am from South Carolina, after all!

  13. Linda WEiss on December 14, 2014 at 9:51 am

    Jenks, my mother had a gumdrop tree at Christmas too. We loved it. She used wild plum branches, which grew everywhere along the roadsides, and in thickets in Southwest Alabama. They had tiny little plums that never ripened enough to eat. In the winter, without leaves, but with very thorny tips, mother would put the gumdrops on and stand the wild plum branch in an urn that her grandfather had purchased in Mexico on his honeymoon. It was beautiful. Thank you so much for showing the tree. Wonderful memories in the story of your grandfather. Merry Christmas.

  14. Mary on December 14, 2014 at 9:51 am

    My kids would love this! I had a smaller version growing up.

  15. Jennifer on December 14, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Use pyracantha. That’s the only thing that has ever slowed down my greedy fingers!

  16. Debbie Loftis on December 14, 2014 at 9:53 am

    You know while reading this story I think of my mother who taught me many things about gardening but never intentionally. While I am out among my own garden now I often think of what she said about something I am thinking or doing– and it always leaves me with a smile and a sense of having her still with me today.

  17. Annie Haven on December 14, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Love your share Jenks from your South to my South seems our family’s shared some of the same traditions what would Christmas be without a gumdrop tree

  18. Cathi Christmus on December 14, 2014 at 11:02 am

    I seem to remember my grandparents having a similar gumdrop tree! Merry Christmas!

  19. Carla Moore on December 14, 2014 at 11:24 am

    I love this. When I was a little girl, there was a tree with thorns on it at our farm. My dad said it was poisonous, dangerous or something to our cows, so I think he cut it down. Never got my gum drop tree, but no cows died and that made it a merry Christmas!

    • Jenks Farmer on December 15, 2014 at 7:18 am

      Congrats Carla — You won the gum drop tree kit!

  20. Tommy Booth on December 14, 2014 at 11:30 am

    We had a gumball tree every year!! It was always fun to attach them.. Then to sneak them off and eat when no one was looking!!! What memories!!

  21. Ursula Haigh on December 14, 2014 at 11:48 am

    This brings back memories! If I’m not picked, could I possibly order a couple branches to make my own??

  22. Serena DuBose on December 14, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Teaching always seems to work best in doing. I would l love to see Jerry steal the gumdrops!

  23. Tania Kalisek on December 14, 2014 at 11:57 am

    Sara (6) wants to know how you grew a gumdrop tree 🙂 She wants me to come get a few gum drops so she can grow her own since yours are magic,LOL. What a great memory for anyone that has one at Christmas! She also wants to know “if it keeps its gum drops all year or do they disappear.” 🙂

  24. Judy Masters on December 14, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    lovely tree with beautiful gumdrops. Looks like a fun project.

  25. Judy Masters on December 14, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Lovely tree. Looks like a fun project for the holidaya

  26. Louisa Gregory on December 14, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    My Gran Gran was so smart, he hung it from the ceiling so an adult would have to lift us to get the gumdrops. Otherwise, it would have been picked empty in just a few minutes. And, it looked very festive hanging!

  27. Louisa Gregory on December 14, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    My Grand ran hung his from the ceiling! It was festive and kept us from picking it clean to quickly!

  28. Jennifer Falvey on December 14, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    Proof that gardening runs deep in Southern hearts, with or without soil. 🙂

  29. Linda Lawson on December 14, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    thanks for sharing this wonderful memory! Merry Christmas to you, Tom and your mom!

  30. Linda Christine on December 14, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Jenks, loved the story and now to find my little plastic one somewhere in this house.

  31. Don Simmons on December 14, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    My grandmother’s gumdrop tree at her row house in Savannah found it’s way to my mother’s house in Aiken when I was still a toddler, and I can dream of those bright colors, clinging to the branches–purchased at the candy counter at McCrory’s Dime store in Downtown Aiken-great memories!

  32. Kendra Hamilton on December 15, 2014 at 9:56 am

    The image of your grandfather digging up palmettos to transplant and rooting cuttings brought tears to my eyes. My grandfather died when I was six, but he was a legendary farmer among the neighbors in Ninety Six. I was raised by former farm kids determined to shake the red clay of the country off their hands, to gain education, to “be a lady,” to “be somebody.” And I treasure mama’s elegance and style–I just never had much interest in emulating it. And I’m really, really happy I figured out that it’s the connection with plants and the earth and earth people that is what makes me happy before it was too late. Thanks, Jenks. Beautiful story.

  33. Jennie on December 16, 2014 at 10:52 am

    Great reminder of something fun (and tasty) to do that will be enthusiastically tended to by the small people in the house!

  34. Tom Hal on December 16, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Jenks made a small gumdrop tree for our house in Columbia. In a beautiful purple conical glass art jar by a friend. Beautiful, cheerful, simple,thoughtful. I love it.

  35. Jean Jones on December 17, 2014 at 12:15 am

    Thank you! What a wonderful reminder of my childhood through teens Christmases. There was always a gum ball tree and right now I can feel that wonderful sweetness in my mouth of my favorite-lemon.

  36. Robert Bales on December 18, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Jenks the reason there were no white, or green gumdrops left on the tree was because I ate them all. Great article it filled my heart to read about our GranGran. He was such a great influence and inspiration. Such love emulated from him.

  37. Peggy Culler on December 20, 2014 at 12:53 am

    I made a 5′ one the first week of this month for Open House at the historic “The Ruins” house in Stateburg.

    • Jenks Farmer on December 25, 2014 at 8:16 am

      Peggy, I’d like to learn and see gardens in the area sometimes.

  38. kim on November 26, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    what are gumdrops called now?

    • Jenks Farmer on November 28, 2015 at 9:44 am

      Is this a joke?

  39. Tracey Tilson on November 22, 2017 at 8:16 pm

    I was on the hunt for a non-plastic gumdrop tree and found your delightful post and photo. My question is, can I use most any tree branch to make a gumdrop tree or could some be poisonous ? I’d love to make one with my three grandchildren. I live in western, NC. Any advice you can give me would be most appreciated! Happy Thanksgiving!!

    • Jenks Farmer on November 30, 2017 at 6:55 am

      Some trees and bushes have toxins. So I’d be careful but not too timid. Just about any tree you find with great thorns is going to be fairly easy to identify. So find the tree, find out what it is (you can send me a pic and I’ll try to help) and get to it!

  40. Laura Buice on December 22, 2021 at 1:37 pm

    Love your article. A beloved Christmas tradition for us also. We use the plastic one now but I googled to find out the name of the thorn bush my mother in law used to use. Thank you!

  41. MARY ANN (B) MYERS on December 27, 2023 at 5:26 pm

    I told a co-worker about the gumdrop tree just before Christmas. He said he’d never heard of it. I rode out to a “waste land” dirt road I know where a good stand was and cut a limb. Brought it in on 12/27 and explained how my mom would make it. She left the limb raw and place it in either packed sand in a pot or turned a clay pot upside down & inserted the limb. Then load it with gumdrops. Sometimes she’d cover the pot with foil and a ribbon. Such a simple & wonderful thing. Dad would take my sister and I to cut the “tree” usually the same weekend that he took us to cut the Cedar from Ms. Dents land. A plastic gumdrop tree? Understand the desire; but miss the lesson that life if both a pain and sweet.

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