Now that the weather is warming up and the days are getting drier, 'tis the season for collecting the fallen seedpods of the Sweet Gum tree. While it's very common in the Southeastern US, I've found several in my local Northern Illinois neighborhood, so keep a sharp eye out even if you're outside its common range.
-Sweet Gum tree seedpods (they must be DRY and hard, do not take pods that are soaking wet or soft)
-Suitable bases (I used old CDs)
-Hot glue & hot glue gun
-Basing material (I used natural sand & "burnt" static grass)
-Flat spray sealant
-Clippers or X-acto Knife
1. Collect fallen sweet gum seedpods. Ideally, you should collect them during a period of dry sunny weather when the pods have had a few days to dry out and harden. If this is not possible, let the pods dry indoors for several days. Do not collect fallen pods that are soaked or have been sitting in water.
2. After the pods have had time to dry, shake them thoroughly over a garbage can. A sawdust-looking material should fall out - these are the actual seeds. Try to be sure to shake them completely out.
3. Clip the long stems at the base of each seedpod with clippers, scissors, or an X-acto knife.
4. Mix gesso, acrylic paint(s) in the color you want your finished cacti/bushes, and a small amount of water. Don't over-do it with the water - you want the pods to be coated with the paint/gesso mix, not soaked in water.
5. Dip each pod in the paint/gesso mix until it is completely covered. Allow the pods to dry thoroughly for several hours before handling again. During this time, you should ready your basing material. Make sure your bases are large enough to accommodate several small "clumps" of seedpods, without any of the pods or spines sticking out over the edge. This will protect your pods from damage and extend their usability.
6. Once the pods are dry, ready your glue gun. Be sure the gun is HOT - if the gun is warm, the glue won't melt well and this process will be much harder. I recommend using a high-temperature glue gun for this but, if you don't have one, a low temp gun will work (but will take longer and require more glue for adhesion). Once hot, attach each pod to the bases.
Be sure to use enough glue to get each pod to adhere, while also making small "root ball" bumps around the base of each cacti/bush.
7. Basing as necessary. Here I covered the bases with a thick layer of tan acrylic paint, then shook some natural sand over the wet paint and let dry for several hours. This forms a nearly rock hard surface, as the sand bonds with the paint while it cures.
8. Seal with flat spray sealant and add any foliage. I just used some "burnt" static grass, since these are intended for a desert/ash wastes planet.