Sweetgum bud, opened, showing both new leaves and flowers
OK. The mystery (for me) is solved. Sweetgum buds open up to release new leaves and flowers, from one and the same bud. You can clearly see new leaves in this photo, plus one or two very immature flowers. (See notes on photo.) To top it off, there's a 2008 fruit hanging on the same tree, in the background. Thank God that, after admiring these trees for decades, for their beautiful autumn leaves, (see our sweetgum set) I finally paid attention to the buds.
I believe that the entire bud complex on the right was about an inch and a half/5 cm in length.
Larger sizes available.