Monday, April 23, 2012

Gardening: Maples are in bloom too!

A person should not be too honest. Straight trees are cut first and honest people are screwed first. – Chanakya 

Red maple flowers. They're a little damp. It was a very foggy morning.
A few days ago I posted about the star magnolias being in bloom in Nova Scotia. They’re certainly not the only tree that is doing its “spring thing.” On the weekend we saw a saucer magnolia that was nearly in bloom. That’s about two weeks earlier than usual here. It was a mild winter to say the least.

Sugar maple blossoms. Note the difference in colour from above.
But when we’re looking at what’s shaking off the doldrums of winter we shouldn’t forget those native species that put on a flowery show. 

One such tree is the Acer, more commonly known as the maple tree. It also happens to be the national tree of Canada, and one of its leaves appears on our flag.

From Wikipedia:
There are approximately 129 species, most of which are native to Asia, with a number also appearing in Europe, northern Africa, and North America. Only one species, the poorly studied Acer laurinum, is native to the Southern Hemisphere. Fifty-four species of maples meet the International Union for Conservation of Nature criteria for being under threat of extinction in their native habitat.

The word Acer derives from a Latin word meaning "sharp" (compare "acerbic"), referring to the characteristic points on maple leaves. It was first applied to the genus by the French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort in 1700. The earliest known fossil maple is Acer alaskense, from the Latest Paleocene of Alaska.

This is a sugar maple seed. Maples make many. many, many.
Photo: Wiki CC
Although several species grow in NS, the most common by far is the sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Its habitat ranges from here west to southern Ontario and as far south as Texas. 

If I had thought of it earlier I could have easily posted this plant under my “foraging” category. Sugar maple is the one that is “tapped” for its sap in early spring, that is then turned into maple syrup. It’s a very useful tree.

Maples are big trees. They can grow over 100’ tall with very wide trunks. They are also excellent shade trees. Maples put on a dramatic display in the fall when their leaves turn to colours ranging from yellow orange to bright red.

Another common maple here is the red maple. As the name suggests, its leaves, twigs, flowers and seed pods are all red to varying degrees. It is often used for landscaping because of the foliage, as is the sugar maple.

In both types of maples the flowers appear in corymbs of 5-10 together. You can tell from the photos what is meant by a corycomb. The resulting fruit is a double “samara” with two winged seeds. So many are produced they are often considered a nuisance by gardeners. They tend to sprout quite easily...

Both maples are putting on quite a show right now. They can be easily spotted while on walks or even driving by because of their colour. The sugar maple have flowers that are yellowish-buff. Red maples have red blossoms.

The flowers don’t last too long so if you want to go see them you should really get out and have a look. They’ll soon be gone for another year.

Young sugar maple at right; Henry the Bouvier at left.

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